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The night of Tuesday, May 17, the seventh and eighth grade choral students of NorthWood Middle School took to the stage of the NorthWood High School auditorium for a concert celebration, just as it has been doneÂ for many seasons prior.
But by eveningâ€™s end, it was very apparent to those in attendance that this performance would feature something quite exquisite and extraordinary,Â moments that would render the event unforgettable. The finalÂ melodyÂ was presented by all of the singers, and it marked theÂ very first time the tune was unveiledÂ in a public forum.Â In a very fitting tribute to the approaching Memorial Day holiday, the new song was entitled â€śTo Those Who Serve.â€ťÂ The musical tribute was commissioned exclusivelyÂ for the Wa-Nee community,Â withÂ remembranceÂ forÂ the family of Travis Hunsberger.
Hunsberger was a former resident of Wakarusa who perishedÂ in Afghanistan in the summer of 2008 during his second tour of duty there, at the age of 24.Â He was a decorated four-year member of the United States Army, having achieved the ranking of Staff Sergeant and Green Beret.Â
The virtuous number was inspired byÂ our nationâ€™sÂ armed forces, the onesÂ who willinglyÂ devote themselves to a higher cause, in that others may know freedoms much like our own.Â Sometimes, in that journey,Â there are those who do notÂ return to their loved ones to share their stories of heroism and hope.
The idea for â€śTo Those Who Serveâ€ť actually first came to light nearly a year ago. Tonya Angle, choral and drama director for NorthWood Middle School, was in the process of selectingÂ music for her students to perform during the approaching school year.Â While she was able to find many samplings of songs for those who have served in the military, she began to wonder if there was a unique way to honor those whose lives were lost, through a dedication of music.
She then thought ofÂ Jill Gallina, a longtime friend and composer who now resides in New York. She knew that Gallina would be a wonderful companion for theÂ prospect.Â Angleâ€™s students have previouslyÂ worked closely with Gallina and her work, presenting her music during past conferences for educators.
â€śI contacted Jill and talked to her about commissioning a song.Â I told her the Hunsbergerâ€™s story and she got right to it.Â She had the basic outline of the songÂ in September,â€ť Angle recalls.
Realizing also that this would be an idealÂ offering for the Hunsberger family, a missionÂ to call forÂ support was passed alongÂ far and wide within the Wa-Nee region.Â Many donations flowed in, enabling the song to reach completion.Â Furthermore, because the people of the districtÂ gave so generously to the compositionâ€™s fruition,Â â€śTo Those Who Serveâ€ť ultimately became commissioned to the community for its premiere.
All the while, the project had to be kept an absolute secret from the Hunsberger family, which proved challenging on a number of levels.Â Travis Hunsbergerâ€™s mother, Ronda, has worked with the middle school choir department as an accompanist, and so rehearsals for the song had to take place during times when she was not present.
Then there was the task of luring the family to the concert.Â Angle gave Travisâ€™s sister, Kelsey, a few hints suggesting that the family should be present.Â And so they came, the clan including father Steve and mother Ronda, seated right in the front row on the night of the show.
When theÂ opening notesÂ were about to be heard, Ronda was escorted off the stage while Jeanne Focht took her place at the piano.Â Wakarusa resident and Hunsberger family friend Greg Birr appeared in his Marine dress uniform to offer opening remarks and an introduction to the new song.
The Hunsbergers were thenÂ given a framed copy of theÂ lyrics, as theÂ emotional finale finally gave way, a most poignant gift from a community who will always be thankful for the life of aÂ noble young soldier. Angle isÂ optimistic that the song will continue toÂ resound in the hearts and minds of many, as there areÂ plans to perform â€śTo Those Who Serveâ€ť in future concert appearances.Â Through the magic of music, its message will hopefully live on forever,Â so very much likeÂ the memory and legacy of Travis Hunsberger.
Photo by Angel Perkins
Ronda Hunsberger brightens up the military memorial at the Wakarusa park with flowers last Saturday. She said visiting and tending the memorial dedicated to her son and others that lost their lives in conflict was therapeutic. â€śA lot of people put a lot of their time and money into making this veterans memorial,â€ť she said. â€śThere are many who have lost a family member while serving and they donâ€™t have something like this to go to to remember them.â€ť The memorial features bricks with the names of military personnel that died while serving and a monument with a rifle and helmet atop a stone with her sonâ€™s picture in a plaque, honoring his sacrifice.