LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- Since 1986, Tracey Lundquist has invited Veterans from all branches of military service to join her elementary school in their annual Veteran’s Celebration. She is as a charismatic, passionate, and dedicated 51 year-old music and literature teacher who is dedicated to honoring service members who have made personal sacrifices while protecting America’s freedom.
More than 500 veterans, service members, their families, teachers and students gathered together at Tyee Park Elementary School, Nov. 3, for the 25th annual and final Veteran’s Celebration. This year’s theme was freedom. The program marked the end of a tradition at this grade school where big things come out of small places.
The event included performances by the 56th Army Band, Soldiers of Swing, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Tyee Park’s 2nd-5th grade choir and the Lakes High School Studio Chamber Choir among other performances including a soldier tap-dancing with students. The music was strategically chosen with songs covering the eras of World War I, Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lundquist’s passion for literature and music is the driving force behind this magnetic fine arts teacher’s push to provide a unique learning experience for her students, said Lundquist.
She is as passionate about the learning process as she is about ensuring her students actually internalize the subjects she teaches. While reading with her kids about World War II, she invited Pearl Harbor survivors and the Tuskegee Airmen to talk to her students and brought history to life.
“The kids were just on the edge of their seats and they will remember it forever,” said Lundquist.
Lundquist, who is in her 28th year of teaching, began the veteran’s celebration 25 years ago by having her students perform songs in the school’s gymnasium as tribute to America’s veterans.
To bring alive the learning experience for her students, she took students to nearby JBLM to visit soldiers, airmen and Marines and to perform at military functions.
During one event, she met retired Col. Joe Jackson, a Vietnam era Medal of Honor recipient. She asked Jackson to be the guest speaker during the 1991 Veterans Day Celebration, fostering the community’s growing interest in her annual celebration, said Lunquist.
Over the years, her kids have been afforded many opportunities to visit service members and have witnessed firsthand what it means to serve. It is important to her that her kids are taught all aspects of American history.
“It is like we have torn out the pages of history books and wrapped them around the kids,” said Lundquist. “They will carry these memories with them wherever they go in life.”
Throughout the years, Lundquist has made several important friends within the military community. Some of her many service member fans and speakers have included long time attendee Gen. John Shalikashvili, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who passed away in July, retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Henry Brady, a Vietnam era Medal of Honor recipient, retired Sgt. John D. Hawk, a Medal of Honor recipient during WWII, and Robert E. Bush, a Navy Hospital Corpsmen and World War II era Medal of Honor recipient who passed away in November of 2005.
Towards the end of the program Lundquist made a special tribute to her long-time friend Shalikashvili who she lovingly referred to as “Chief” and “Shali” before Tyee Park’s school secretary Kim Blackner sang “We’ll Meet Again.”
“For those of you who knew General Shali, I’m sure you will relate when I say, words will never adequately express the tremendous loss that we feel,” said Lundquist. “Chief, this one’s for you. Your song of life may have ended, but its melody will linger on with us forever.”
Even though Lundquist announced that she will no longer sponsor the Veteran’s Day Celebration on the level she has, she will continue to create her own classroom curriculum by integrating academics with music. She has mixed emotions about the ending of this era.
“I went through the seven stages of grief,” said Lundquist. “It has been such an important part of my life. I have met amazing, wonderful, absolutely incredible people who have changed my life and I am sad knowing that I won’t have the opportunities to be in their presence on a yearly basis anymore.”
"For years, this celebration has been Tyee Park’s way of thanking our military, both active and retired, for serving our country,” said Lundquist. “Many of our veterans do not consider themselves heroes, but in our eyes, they are America’s treasures.”