MAPLE PARK – Standing and looking around in awe after a morning filled with applause and recognition, Phyllis Domena said she learned something Monday morning at a patriotic assembly in the Kaneland High School gym.
Domena, whose husband, Robert, died while serving in the U.S. Army, said she never before heard that made her a member of a gold-star family.
"We didn't know what that meant," she said.
The Domenas know now. They were among the invited guests showered with applause from students and visitors at the event, which featured a performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Jim Cornelison, famed for performing the national anthem before Chicago Blackhawks home games. Unlike those games, at which fans cheer throughout the singing, the crowd remained quiet during Cornelison's singing, but then erupted with applause immediately afterward.
The patriotic assembly was put together by Rudy Keller, Kaneland's interim athletic director. Keller previously had put together such events at other schools. Keller said that all of the festivities were donated, and that the assembly did not cost money for Kaneland School District 302.
There were tributes to three such gold-star Kaneland families, honoring Domena, as well as 1962 graduate Edwin Turk Jr., and 1963 graduate Richard Wormdahl. Richard Stover, a friend of Wormdahl's accepted for Wormdahl and had anticipated giving to the school, since he didn't know of the whereabouts of his friend's family. But after the ceremony, Stover said a woman approached him and said she lived next door to Wormdahl's family and would be able to supply the necessary information.
Among other highlights:
• Kaneland students who will join the U.S. armed forces were recognized. One of them, Phil Cutsinger, said the assembly was impressive.
"It's not just me who feels proud to be an American," he said.
• There were two key speakers – Lt. Gen. Randall Rigby and Sgt. Allen Lynch, who was a recipient of a Medal of Honor.
Lynch told students that to be patriotic, they first must be thankful. He told them that "freedom is not something you deserve. … The freedom you have is bought and paid for by somebody else."
"What if you had to stand in front of a gold-star family and tell them what you are doing?" he asked. "Would they be proud?"
• Phyllis Domena was joined in the audience by her mother, Peggy Domena-Ward, as well as her daughter, Gabriella Domena, who now attends NIU. Gabrielle was very young when her father died. She said the ceremony made her cry.
"It was beautiful," Gabrielle Domena said.