Performance a dedication, unveiling memorium

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 done for many seasons prior.
But by evening’s end, it was very apparent to those in attendance that this performance would feature something quite exquisite and extraordinary, moments that would render the event unforgettable. The final melody was presented by all of the singers, and it marked the very first time the tune was unveiled in a public forum.  In a very fitting tribute to the approaching Memorial Day holiday, the new song was entitled “To Those Who Serve.”  The musical tribute was commissioned exclusively for the Wa-Nee community, with remembrance for the family of Travis Hunsberger.
Hunsberger was a former resident of Wakarusa who perished in Afghanistan in the summer of 2008 during his second tour of duty there, at the age of 24.  He was a decorated four-year member of the United States Army, having achieved the ranking of Staff Sergeant and Green Beret. 
The virtuous number was inspired by our nation’s armed forces, the ones who willingly devote themselves to a higher cause, in that others may know freedoms much like our own.  Sometimes, in that journey, there are those who do not return to their loved ones to share their stories of heroism and hope.
The idea for “To Those Who Serve” actually first came to light nearly a year ago. Tonya Angle, choral and drama director for NorthWood Middle School, was in the process of selecting music for her students to perform during the approaching school year.  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 of Jill Gallina, a longtime friend and composer who now resides in New York. She knew that Gallina would be a wonderful companion for the prospect.  Angle’s students have previously worked closely with Gallina and her work, presenting her music during past conferences for educators.
“I contacted Jill and talked to her about commissioning a song.  I told her the Hunsberger’s story and she got right to it.  She had the basic outline of the song in September,” Angle recalls.
Realizing also that this would be an ideal offering for the Hunsberger family, a mission to call for support was passed along far and wide within the Wa-Nee region.  Many donations flowed in, enabling the song to reach completion. Furthermore, because the people of the district gave so generously to the composition’s fruition, “To Those Who Serve” 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.  Travis Hunsberger’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.  Angle gave Travis’s sister, Kelsey, a few hints suggesting that the family should be present.  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 the opening notes were about to be heard, Ronda was escorted off the stage while Jeanne Focht took her place at the piano.  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 then given a framed copy of the lyrics, as the emotional finale finally gave way, a most poignant gift from a community who will always be thankful for the life of a noble young soldier. Angle is optimistic that the song will continue to resound in the hearts and minds of many, as there are plans to perform “To Those Who Serve” in future concert appearances.  Through the magic of music, its message will hopefully live on forever, so very much like 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. “A lot of people put a lot of their time and money into making this veterans memorial,” she said. “There are many who have lost a family member while serving and they don’t have something like this to go to to remember them.” 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 son’s picture in a plaque, honoring his sacrifice.