MOUNT VERNON — For the past five years, sixth graders at Mount Vernon Middle School have read “Cracker!” by Cynthia Kadohata and hear from Ed Reeves, a Vietnam scout dog handler. And each year, the students do a special project to honor Reeves, his war dog Prince, and the other Vietnam war dogs.
This year is no different. This year’s project came in the form of the sixth-grade class sponsoring one of the dog statues at the new fountain at South Main Plaza in Mount Vernon. The German Shepherd, one of the 12 dogs at the fountain, will honor Prince by having his ear number, 986A, painted on.
Trudy Debolt, a sixth grade English teacher and founders of Working Dogs Awareness Group (WAGS), has the students read “Cracker!”, a work of historical fiction based in true stories from the dog handlers. After reading the books, each year the sixth graders do something to honor the dogs left behind. And this year is something special because their project is in their community.
Reeves was told about the surprise after giving his presentation about the scout dogs, and his relationship with Prince, to the sixth-grade class. Prince was one of the very few dogs to come back after the Vietnam war; only some 200 dogs out of over 4,000 came back to the states.
A video was shown to Reeves, telling him about what the sixth-grade class has done. It ended with saying “We have our war dog Prince.” Reeves grew emotional after learning what the kids have done for him, Prince, and the other Vietnam war dogs.
“I wish I knew all the words I want to say,” Reeves said about seeing the German Shepherd down at the fountain. “What Trudy and the Mount Vernon Middle school kids have done… It’s amazing. It’s just a lot overwhelming right now.
“For Prince being (in my life) for such a small part, he’s become such a big part of my life,” he went on to say. “To see things like this, what we did at (Motts Military Museum)… I just don’t have the words… I can’t find the words to describe how I feel. I appreciate it, I love it.”
He said he’s going to come back for the dedication in the spring and bring some more people up from Columbus. During the presentation, he said he was in debt to Mount Vernon already for their donation to the Vietnam War Dog Team Memorial at the Motts Military Museum in Groveport. The dedication the kids have, he said, was indescribable, and that the kids were blessed to live in such a community.
Debolt also grew emotional at the unveiling and said that she’s relieved that the secret is out and she can publish it on Facebook.
“I’ve had this secret hidden from the world until today,” she said. “To show what these kids have done to honor the dogs of Vietnam is an incredible opportunity…I will never be able to top this and Ed always says ‘you don’t have to do a thing.’”
The process of sponsoring the dog statue came up in conversation when Debolt was doing an interview will Phil Samuell about her WAGS program for the Knox County Animal Shelter 2020 calendar. She told the News how she asked about the cost to sponsor the German Shepherd.
Debolt knew that they couldn’t raise enough money needed to sponsor the dog. A single dog would have cost $15,000. Samuell asked her how much she thought the sixth graders could raise and she said maybe $2,000, a little over one-eighth of the price. And they did, they raised $2,619, more than they ever have raised before. Samuell made the efforts to find other donors who would help Debolt and her students sponsor the dog.
The fundraising took place over three weeks. By the end of the second week, they already hit the mark of $2,000. Even when the fundraiser was officially over, kids still kept bringing in money.
“From our town of poverty, to get that kind of money is incredible,” Debolt said. “Every day there would be kids that would, after lunch, bring me a dollar a day because that’s all they had. But they wanted to make sure they contributed something. So those kids, I made as big of a fuss if they brought me a dollar as the ones that brought $50 and $20.”
The rest of the funds were matched through other donors.
“A retired Mount Vernon school teacher, Debby Massa, has come forward with a generous contribution toward sponsoring the German Shepherd,” Samuell said in an email to the News. “Clearly, the Ariel Foundation is the anchor for this project and their support has enabled this fountain to become a reality. Other donors have participated in helping (Debolt) and the students be successful.
“Sponsoring the German Shepherd was all (Debolt’s) idea… This is important to her, so it was important to me and others we help her succeed in her mission, and everyone involved in the fountain project are happy she came to us,” Samuell said. “These students now have some ownership in this fountain, they’ve participated in a fundraising campaign that most people don’t do, or get the chance to at a young age. We’re delighted with their response and commitment.”
“The kids are going to have a relationship with that statue,” Trudy said. “(The German Shepherd’s) going to have so much meaning to these kids.”
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