S.A.V.E. Team Continues Mission to Preserve WWII History
Jun 22, 2014 08:28PM
● By Laura Ustanovska
L-R S.A.V.E. Team: Jake Julius, Bailey Wakefield, coach Christy Julius, Morgan Roelke, Mary Baumgartner, Gary Griepentrog
Almost two years ago, the seventh grade Destination Imagination (DI) team at Swallow School found itself in the midst of an animated discussion trying to choose a community service challenge. Team member Jake Julius explains: “After working on solving our challenge for the entire school year, we compete in local, state and global competitions against other schools.”
After reading an article about the local chapter of Honor Flight, the team settled on the idea of preserving the stories of WWII veterans on film. Jake contacted the Hartland American Legion for assistance contacting veterans to interview. “The first veteran we interviewed was John Eskau, a Hartland resident, who was a cook on a naval vessel,” says Jake.
Bailey Wakefield, another team member, was working on her bat mitzvah preparations and suggested adding Holocaust survivor interviews to the project as well. “My great-grandfather and his two brothers came to America before Hitler took over Germany,” relates Bailey. “His entire family was killed in Poland during the Holocaust.” The rest of the DI team agreed with Bailey's suggestion, and with the help of Bailey's mom, Stacey, and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, the team began interviewing Holocaust survivors in addition to war veterans.
During the 2012-2013 school year, the team brought Eugene Schulz, a local veteran who liberated a concentration camp during WWII, to Swallow School. Schulz gave a presentation to all seventh and eighth grade students about his experiences. The team also hosted a screening of the movie Honor Flight. All the veterans the team had interviewed were invited to attend and were introduced to the crowd of 350 after viewing the film.
The event had a wonderful turnout, and with the $2,500 raised, the team was able to purchase bricks for each of their veterans to be placed in the new WWII Pillar Monument in Port Washington. “I look forward to showing my grandchildren the bricks our team placed,” adds Gary Griepentrog, another team member.
The team placed first at regionals in Germantown, making them the first team from Swallow School to ever advance to the state tournament. They placed third at the state competition held in Stevens Point and continued on to global finals in Knoxville, TN. After spending a week at the University of Tennessee, our hometown team finished 14th out of nearly 70 teams participating in the same challenge! They were also the only team awarded the Torchbearer Award, which is given for exceptional service to the team's community and beyond.
At the same time, the team began to distribute the four-disc set, “Stories from WWII,” they created to local schools and libraries.
The team worked through the summer and began the 2013-2014 school year with a new name: S.A.V.E. (Survivor and Veteran Experiences). It was another busy year for the group, which was invited by the Hartland Public Library to show videos of veteran interviews on Veterans Day.
Working together with the Milwaukee Admirals, the team hosted WWII Veteran Appreciation Night at the Admiral's game on Sunday, January 12. “It was truly emotional to see these humble veterans tear up as they received a standing ovation from the thousands in the audience at the Admirals game,” says Jake. “One WWII veteran dropped the first puck, and two WWII veterans rode on the Zambonis. People in the halls of the Bradley Center stopped the veterans, gave hugs and thanked them for their service. We feel this event was a great success."
Furthermore, the team scheduled a Holocaust educator from the Milwaukee Jewish Federation to come to Swallow School for a day to present to the eighth grade class. LIFE Charter School asked if it could attend the presentation as well. When the team scheduled a follow-up speaker for the following week, LIFE Charter again asked to attend the presentation, along with St. Charles School.
This year, the team again placed first at regionals and second at the state competition. They were honored to receive the Torchbearer Award for the second year in a row.
“At global finals in Knoxville, TN, in May, the team took eighth place overall among 62 teams from all over the world who were presenting their service projects,” says Coach Karyn Roelke. “In addition, they received the Torchbearer Award again on a global level (the only team of around 190 projects from all over the world to receive it) and were presented with medals onstage in front of 14,000 people. It was really exciting for them and definitely gave them extra resolve to continue.”
“This summer we plan to complete our DVD set, distribute many more copies and explore more ways to expand our project outside of our community,” explains Morgan Roelke, S.A.V.E. team member. “Some of our team members are meeting with archivists at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, and they will see firsthand how the museum has made our Holocaust survivor interviews available in their online resource library. We are really excited to share these heroes' stories with a broader audience and continue to capture more WWII veteran and Holocaust survivors' stories."
At the time of writing, the team had interviewed 15 survivors and 34 veterans. If you would like more information about the S.A.V.E. team's project and events, please contact them at email@example.com or visit their website.