Students Carry On Lake Bluff Veterans Day Tradition


Photo credit; graphic by Ryan Peters

When a longtime Veterans Day event was in jeopardy, some seniors stepped up to save it. The ceremony will be at 9 am on Monday.

Ryan Peters, Staff Writer

For several decades, American Legion Post 510 partnered with the Village of Lake Bluff to sponsor a Veterans Day Ceremony at the Village Green Gazebo. When the post merged with Lake Forest’s American Legion Post 264 last year because of dwindling membership and no other group offered to sponsor it, it seemed that last year’s ceremony was the end of the road.

Senior Mark Smirnov and Mrs. Janene Kessler, the band director and faculty advisor for the student committee that will host the Lake Bluff Veterans Day event.

However, when senior Mark Smirnov learned the event might be canceled, he immediately took action. Smirnov, a Lake Bluff resident, made a petition to save the ceremony. He gathered 61 signatures, which included members of National Honors Society, Junior State of America, Boy Scouts Troop 42, and the LFHS Band. Principal Chala Holland signed the petition as well. This petition provided him with the support he needed to launch the initiative.

Taking on the challenge of running the ceremony was a no-brainer for Smirnov; he said it was “mind-boggling” that no one else had offered to sponsor it earlier. He highlighted the community’s close affiliation to the armed forces through the Great Lakes Naval Base being located just a few miles up Sheridan Road.

Smirnov said he feels an even closer connection to the veterans after volunteering at the Federal Healthcare Center in North Chicago a few years ago. He decided that the village could not miss out on a special opportunity to honor our nation’s veterans.

“I want this to mean to them that this is an occasion that can’t be overlooked,” he said. “If they feel appreciated for what they’ve done, then our mission is complete.”

He said that he told himself “if no one is seriously going to do it, I’ll do it” after learning that the ceremony was dropped. He added that he couldn’t imagine “how much of a shock [having no ceremony] would be for the community.”

If they feel appreciated for what they’ve done, then our mission is complete.”

— Mark Smirnov

After gathering support, Smirnov organized a volunteer-based student committee. The committee, made up of 24 students, is led by 11 lead organizers and directed by Smirnov and Director of Bands Janene Kessler. Mrs. Kessler, who has been involved in the Veterans Day Ceremony since 2002, is serving in an advisory role.

She said she was thrilled when Smirnov approached her about continuing the tradition, calling it a “great opportunity for the students and our community.”

On Oct. 11, Smirnov met with Lake Bluff Village President Kathy O’Hara and presented his plan for the initiative. He showed O’Hara the petition, and she approved his plan to run the ceremony. While O’Hara was hoping for a civic group to organize the ceremony permanently, she was willing to allow the students to do so in the interim.

O’Hara’s permission was a major relief for Mrs. Kessler and the committee. She knew getting the village’s approval was going to be the largest obstacle in the way of the students. “Many adults aren’t ready to go with students’ plans,” she said.

The committee is keeping the ceremony more or less unchanged to build trust. The group is “trying not to stray too far from what’s been done in the past,” Mrs. Kessler said.

However, they still hope to breathe new life into the observance; Smirnov said he wants to “re-energize” the tradition. “I want this to mean something special for the veterans in our community.”

The ceremony also provides Smirnov with an opportunity to fulfill a dream of his: to bugle. Taps, the iconic American bugle call, is typically performed at the Veterans Day ceremony, and he was determined to not miss out on the chance to bugle.

“I play the trumpet because of bugling,” he said. “This was my year to play Taps.”

The ceremony, set to take place at 9 am on Monday at the gazebo on the Lake Bluff Village Green, will be emceed by sophomores Andrew Terkildsen and Sarah Mack. Retired U.S. Navy Captain Andrew Rosa will serve as the guest speaker. Two LFHS seniors, Litsa Kapsalis and Casey Murray, will speak as well, and Lake County Board District 13 Chairwoman Sandy Hart will read the necrology alongside LFHS Junior drum major Margaret Jemian.

Mrs. Kessler praised the administration for providing the students with the necessary connections, support, and opportunities to carry out the event, saying “it speaks to the opportunities the school provides… It’s very rewarding to see our students so authentically engaged with our community members.”

Dr. Holland, who has been supportive of Smirnov’s initiative from the beginning, praised the committee’s actions.

“I am really proud of our students for recognizing a need, for stepping up, and for taking the lead with the support of Mrs. Kessler,” she said. Administrative Assistant  Cynthia Rogna, who helps organize the Veterans Day Observance at the high school, commended the students for their ambition and leadership; “this speaks volumes to the students here,” she said.

Mrs. Kessler said that she could not be more pleased with the initiative of the students. The biggest challenge has been that “more people want to be involved than we know what to do with,” she said. She hopes that student committee’s leadership will inspire adult groups to take responsibility for planning the Veterans and Memorial Day ceremonies, create a stronger partnership between the community and school, and give the veterans the honor they deserve.