St. James School students honor veterans Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Jane Lepeska Grinde, Catholic Herald Correspondent   
Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
st james student
Julian (holding up five fingers for his recent birthday) and his parents Erin and Alejandro Arango-Escalante meet with St. James School teacher Mrs. Chris Eshun, right, before she leaves for San Diego to attend her son's graduation from basic training. Julian, a 4K student at St. James School, traded birthday presents for money to help fund Mrs. Eshun’s trip to her son’s graduation. (Catholic Herald photo/Shine Photografx)

MADISON -- The son of a Marine Corps veteran gave up birthday presents in exchange for money to give to St. James Catholic School teacher Mrs. Chris Eshun so she could attend her youngest son’s graduation from basic training in San Diego in December.

Mrs. Eshun, who has been teaching at St. James since 1985, received the gift at an all-school assembly on the Marine Corps’ birthday November 10.

Letter from a student

At the surprise assembly, Mrs. Eshun was called to the front to read a letter from Julian Arango-Escalante, a 4K student, as he, his mother Erin, and older sister Liliana looked on. His dad, Alejandro Arango-Escalante, was unable to attend. The letter said:

“Dear Ms. Eshun,

“My daddy told me that today is the Marine Corps birthday. Before I was born, my daddy was a Marine and he was stationed in Camp Pendleton and all over the world. He also told me that your son, D’Angelo, is a Marine.

“A few months ago, my daddy met your son and they talked about becoming a Marine, and all about boot camp. Boy, there were a lot of stories! I heard D’Angelo was a little nervous. I would be too. He told my daddy he was most worried that you would not be able to see him graduate from boot camp. He wants you to be proud of him!”

After two paragraphs, Mrs. Eshun was unable to continue reading. Principal Mike McCabe came to her rescue. The letter went on to explain that instead of receiving presents at his birthday party, his friends brought money because “I wanted to buy you luggage, a toothbrush, and plane ticket to San Diego.”

Julian ended his letter, “I look up to my daddy for what he has done for our country. I will now look up to D’Angelo in the same way. Semper Fi!” A postscript added, “My mommy helped me write this letter because I’m learning my letters.”

Julian, who turned five on October 1, collected $750 from friends who were happy to contribute for a gift to the well-loved teacher.

Teacher emphasizes service

Mrs. Eshun, a mother of six children, the youngest two of whom are adopted, is a mainstay at the school and Good Shepherd Parish.

She has always emphasized service in her teaching. She advises the student council and trains the altar servers as well as being a mentor to other teachers.

The fourth grade teacher started the buddy program, linking her students to kindergartners. Now all the upper grades also have buddies with the younger children.

Observing Veterans Day

The day following the assembly was Veterans Day, and St. James students again honored veterans. The fourth through eighth graders participated in a 30-minute program at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum on the Capitol Square.

The children gave thank you cards to veterans and performed a musical program. The cards were made by the younger children with their student buddies in the upper grades.

Karen Burch, senior marketing specialist for the museum, said veterans appreciated the involvement of the St. James students and were pleased to receive the cards.

Burch is the mother of two St. James School students and, like Julian’s dad, is a Marine Corps veteran. She previously served as a military media journalist. Choosing St. James for her children was influenced by her mother-in-law and extended family members who attended St. James School.

Mrs. Eshun suggested that a high proportion of St. James School parents seem to be veterans. “My next research project will look into that,” she said.

Memorial for alumnus

Another well-known veteran who is a St. James School parent is Dan Connery, who is with the Veterans Service Office for Dane County. Connery served in the Army from 1988 to 1991 and spent six months in the Middle East during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He and his wife Melinda have contributed many volunteer hours to the school.

Their youngest son Riley is in kindergarten, and their two older sons Bailey and Keiran are graduates. Last spring, Bailey died in a car crash as he was returning from his internship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A high school senior, he had been admitted to the UW for the fall.

In their grief, the Connerys designated St. James School as a memorial for their son. Mary Yockey, school fundraising director, said, “Tragically, our community lost a young soul this year -- Bailey Connery. But the outpouring of both emotional support to the Connery family and monetary support to the Bailey memorial revealed the genuine beauty and closeness of the St. James community.”

On Giving Day this year, Melinda posted a message on her Facebook which said in part, “The St. James School Annual Fund and Camp Gray are two places that are so special to our family and both have played a huge role in helping Dan and me raise three amazing boys. I know either would be so thankful for your support. . . . Today it’s your turn to be someone’s angel.”

St. James School

Begun in 1905, St. James School is the oldest private school in Madison and located just 13 blocks from the State Capitol. In addition to serving pre-K through eighth grade students, it offers early childhood education and care as well as after-school childcare for older students.

The school is a key ministry of Good Shepherd Parish, which includes St. James and St. Joseph Churches. Msgr. Thomas Baxter, pastor, said, “St. James School is a very special school family. In a true spirit of compassion and service, we celebrate each other’s achievements, reach out to assist each other in time of need, and honor those who have made very special contributions to our school.”

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