Menahga community reveres area vets

Patriotic fervor swelled at the Menahga High School (MHS) gym Wednesday morning as students, staff, community members and area veterans collaborated for the annual Veterans Day program.

The Star of the North U.S. Marine Corps League joined Menahga VFW Post 6206 to present the nation's colors at Menahga School's Veterans Day program, held Wednesday, Nov. 9.
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise
We are part of The Trust Project.

Patriotic fervor swelled at the Menahga High School (MHS) gym Wednesday morning as students, staff, community members and area veterans collaborated for the annual Veterans Day program.

The Menahga VFW Post 6206 color guard and Star of the North U.S. Marine Corps League led the opening and closing flag ceremonies.

Menahga VFW member Larry Murphy salutes the flag as everyone recites the Pledge of Allegiance.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

U.S. Army Reserves Major Julia Harrison Livingston assisted the Menahga FFA and organizer Jean Weyer with emcee duties.

Livingston, a 1992 MHS graduate, has been serving in the military for 29 years. She was part of humanitarian missions in Panama and El Salvador. She’s an engineer, and her son currently attends Menahga School.

Faculty veterans

Along with new administration, veterans working at the school were introduced.


Sgt. Michael Weerts, the community education director, served in the U.S. Army from 2003 to 2008. He participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.

Biology teacher Holly Westad also was a member of the U.S. Army from 2002 to 2009. A staff sergeant, Westad was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan.

Non-combat vets

This year’s program honored veterans who served during peacetime or non-combat times.

In her introduction, Carol Ann Cleveland said, “Whether in combat or not, every part of our U.S. military plays an important role in keeping us safe and protecting our homeland.”

Local veterans Ken Hillstrom and Norm Hillukka were among those recognized at Wednesday's program.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Ken Hillstrom, for example, was an electronic technician for fighter jets in the U.S. Air Force from 1958-1964.

Jim Palokangas served on three aircraft carriers from 1951-55.

Rodney Cleveland, Carol Ann’s father-in-law, served in the U.S. Navy from 1951-54. He’s currently 91 years old.

Norm Hillukka, Todd Hillukka, Randy Lake, Lacey (Roiko) Erickson, Eugene Kumpula, Kenny Holgate, Jim Wheeler and Doug Burkholder were recognized as well. Several are MHS graduates.


FFA members gave each veteran a carnation.

Park Rapids honorees

Four Star of the North members were venerated. All served with the U.S. Marines.

“We’re always proud and honored that the league participates in our veterans programs,” said Weyer.

Four Honor Guard members of the Park Rapids Star of the North Detachment Marine Corps League were recognized on Wednesday for their military service. Jim Palokangas, at left, observes as Ron Masanz shakes hands with Michael Kunz, Darrel Gruis and Fred Whiteside.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

After serving from 1956-62, Michael Kunz spent 17 years with the U.S. Air National Guard.

Darrel Gruis served from 1956-58. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.

Fred Whiteside was a drill instructor, serving from 1953-56. He was stationed in Korea.

Ron Masanz, 95, was also treated to a round of appreciation. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1951 to 1953. He’s a founding member of the Star of the North detachment.

Weyer recounted, “A number of his friends and family had given their lives in Korea, so he enlisted as well, but having played football for the University of Minnesota and graduating with a physical education and health degree, the Marine Corps had other plans for him. They first sent him to Jacksonville, Florida, where he coached the Marine baseball team. From there, he went to the Minneapolis Naval Air Station, where he worked in public relations and recruitment at area high schools and with the Fort Snelling Honor Guard and burial team.”


Masanz ended his service at El Toro, California as a football coach.

Patriotic essays, music

More than 150 Menahga sixth through eighth graders entered the VFW Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest. The 2022 theme was "My pledge to our veterans."

Menahga VFW Commander Ralph Cox Jr. and VFW Auxiliary President Joanie Liimatta recognized the top five essayists with cash awards. Claire Haataja took first place and $75. She shared her essay with the audience.

Claire Haataja shares her winning essay for the VFW Patriot's Pen Contest.
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Over 20 freshmen through seniors competed in the VFW’s Voice of Democracy Essay Contest.

Cox and Liimatta gave cash awards to the top three essayists.

Hailey Hofer won this year, responding to the 2022 theme “Why is the veteran important?”

Hailey Hofer, winner of the VFW Voice of Democracy Audio-Essay contest, responds to the 2022 theme "Why is the veteran important."
Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Under the direction of Beth Hahn, the Menahga High School band performed “Message on the Rock.”

The fifth grade choir sang Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” lead by Tanya Carney.

The Menahga High School choir sang “God Bless America,” with choir director April Hodge.

There were a combined 8 technical fouls called

Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
What to read next
Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area (LAH) has a new resource for caregivers.
From the Hubbard County dispatch blotter.
The Park Rapids-based, family-owned firm celebrated with an open house on Friday, Dec. 2.
The Menahga City Council discussed its options – besides extending the deadline, again, for the administrator/clerk/treasurer position – at their Monday, Nov. 28 meeting.