Local teacher earns Veterans of Foreign Wars honor

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A local teacher's work to celebrate the efforts of veterans has caught the attention of state veterans' officials.

Military veteran Bill Ronis of Sunset Elementary School has been honored in Colorado's K-fourth grade category as the Veterans of Foreign War Citizenship Education Teacher of the Year. If Ronis is selected at a June convention for a national award, he and Sunset Elementary will receive prizes of $1,000 each. If chosen, Ronis will also earn a trip to Washington, D.C. to receive the honor.

A teacher at Maybell School for the past two years, Ronis spearheaded projects there and at Sunset this year for the Veterans Day holiday.

"I don't want (students) to forget about our vets, especially with all the soldiers getting killed today," he said.

At the Maybell School, Ronis organized students to participate in Veterans Day celebrations. After noticing that many of the schools' flags were weathered, Ronis led students in a traditional flag burning ceremony. He had students toss the ashes on the school garden to "grow patriotism." Months later, flower seeds Ronis secretly sprinkled before the flag burning ceremony, blossomed in shades of red, white and blue to his and the students' surprise.

"I think that's what really clinched the award," Ronis said.

Last fall, Ronis started a wall of courage at Sunset Elementary. About 400 students recognized family members who had served in the military. The display created an impressive example of the many students who have military ties, Ronis said.

Veterans from the local VFW post 4265 nominated Ronis for the honor after learning about his dedication to celebrate the November holiday with students.

"He is very good at communicating with children and what he has done is very patriotic," said local veteran Jim Meineke. "It would be quite a feather in our hat to have him win national recognition."

Meineke said local veterans haven't made it a habit to nominate a local teacher each year for the award. That's why they were pleasantly surprised that Ronis' work was chosen as the top among state nominations.

Ronis is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. Though Coast Guardmans are rarely involved in battle, Ronis flew dignitaries in and out of Grenada, Cuba during a 1983 U.S military action.

During his military stint, Ronis also helped stop drug smugglers from entering the U.S., fought pirates and secured the U.S. coastlines from invasion.

Ronis keeps pictures of himself during military service and an outline of his duties posted at the front of his fourth-grade classroom.

Ronis said he is honored by the veterans award because it shows that teachers sometimes try hard to teach a full spectrum of subjects.

"It's an honor because somebody noticed," he said. "Teachers work hard to make the extra stuff happen. It's important for the community to know about that once in a while."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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