It might be a little town, but Morgan Mill has a big and generous heart. That fact was evidenced Friday when Morgan Mill ISD held its annual Thanksgiving feast, inviting residents from throughout the county to break bread at the school gymnasium.
It felt more like a family reunion than a community event, with highly anticipated and honored guests on the way. The room was abuzz with murmurs of “Where are they?” and “Are they here yet?” as the crowd awaited the arrival of soldiers from Fort Hood.
The first glimpse of the young men and women as they filed into the gym elicited a spontaneous standing ovation from grateful civilians.
Stephenville resident Todd Whitehead said it was his second year to be at the Thanksgiving celebration.
“It's always great to see how everyone comes out in support of the kids and troops,” he said. “It's neat that such a small school as this can do such a wonderful thing for the community and those soldiers.”
Sixth grade teacher Teresa Nachtigall is a 20-year veteran of the classroom and was busy setting out desserts for the hungry group.
“This is what Thanksgiving is all about,” she said. “Being able to do this and see everyone come out and enjoy it is wonderful.”
She credits the event for teaching some of life's important lessons to Morgan Mill students.
“The kids learn what it is to serve others,” she said. “They have all been looking so forward to the soldiers from Fort Hood coming.”
Stone Tassione, a seventh grader, expressed pride in the event his school offers to the community and soldiers each year.
“It's sort of a tradition,” he said. “Everyone comes, from regular people to soldiers. It means a lot to me because we serve soldiers who don't get to see a lot of thanks.”
Tarleton State University President Dr. Dominic Dottavio and wife Lisette stopped by to enjoy the festivities.
“It is the most remarkable community event I've ever seen,” Dottavio said. “The spirit and the pride they reflect here and the amount of enthusiasm and joy that takes place is unlike anything I've seen.”
Newly elected State Representative J.D. Sheffield dropped in to visit with his new constituents.
“I think this is a great representation of what small town folks are all about,” he said. “It's about giving to each other and celebrating a sense of community. It's very inspiring.”
As an eighth grader, Paden Bray was one of the senior students on hand to help out and was serving tea refills around the room.
“I've been doing this for two years,” he said. “It's really cool because the whole community comes, and we serve the soldiers.”
Dean Edwards, who has been district superintendent for 28 years, estimated they have been serving the luncheon for around 15 years.
“It's so American,” he said. “It's a wonderful opportunity for our kids to learn to give back, practice their patriotism and to participate in community service. It's also an opportunity for all of us to say thank you to those individuals who ensure our freedoms.”
It comes as no surprise each of the young people who hailed from Fort Hood have made sacrifices in order to serve their country. But hearing about those hardships brings the matter closer to home.
Specialist Isabel Campos is a single mother who has the daunting task of arranging for the care of her one year old daughter when she is deployed in the not so distant future.
“I see her every day right now,” she said. “But I leave very early, so she is in daycare most of the time. I don't get much time with her. They say that next year we will be deployed. I have to prepare for that and see what I am going to do with her. I have to think about who I'll get to care for her.”
For North Carolina native Specialist Willie Sherrill and Specialist David Brown of Florida, being away from family takes its toll?especially on the young men's mothers.
“Meeting nice people like this is always a great thing,” Sherrill admitted. “But I miss my family, even though you get used to it after awhile. But my mom is never going to get used to it.”
Brown faces the same dilemma.
“It's been about a year since I've been home,” Brown said. “And my mom definitely wants me home.”
Sarasota, Florida's Beth Willis was in town visiting Morgan Mill resident Debbie Lincoln and was duly impressed with the gathering.
“It's very unusual, but so good that we support the troops, to show we are grateful,” she said. “And it's also very good for the kids. It's a nice balance and really teaches good lessons.”