In honor of their service to the United States of America, the Tri-Community Kiwanis and the Snowline Joint Unified School District presented the Twenty-Ninth Annual High Desert Veteran’s Dinner on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, in a beautifully decorated Serrano High School Gymnasium.
Several local school and community organizations pooled their resources to serve a delicious Pulled pork meal catered by Wild Bill’s Smokey Meats for our local war heroes and guests. With music provided by the Serrano High School Jazz Ensemble and Choir, the yearly traditional dinner was graced with their talents upon entry and throughout dinner. The enthusiasm was overwhelming as our Veterans and guests arrived on the cool Fall school night.
Upon entering the “Snake Pit” lobby, Veterans and guests were greeted by a colorful welcome wagon of sponsor volunteers welcoming them to their special night in Phelan. Local businesses and organizations such as Victorville Motors, the Junior Fair Board, and the CA Cadet Corps were in uniform and assisting as ushers. Besides being event ambassadors, Snowline Joint Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Ryan Holman and Snowline Assistant Superintendent Allen Miller could be seen mingling with the veterans, showing their support for the High Desert Veterans Annual Dinner.
The Heritage School Builders Club student volunteers were in sharp attendance in their tan club t-shirts, delivering Starbucks coffee and water to first arrivers at the spectacular Diamondback Gymnasium, which seemed to shine with pageantry and polish. Snowline School Board Trustee and Assistant Pastor at Calvary Chapel Daniel Flores, a former student of Heritage School Builders Club Founder Todd Anton, was a proud coordinator watching as the Heritage Builders served the veterans their complimentary meals. Daniel has been essential in organizing and participating in the event since the beginning, twenty-nine High Desert Veteran’s Dinners ago.
Serrano Choir vocalist Natalie Brito performed a wonderful vocal rendition of the Armed Forces Medley. She brilliantly represented the anthems of our Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force. Mr. Todd Anton at the podium jested there were no lyrics for the Space Force yet. The National Anthem was beautifully performed by the Inspire PAC Singers, inspiring the audience to raise their voices to the American Flag.
Heritage School Teacher and originator of the High Desert Veterans Dinner Todd Anton spoke to the audience in an excited voice, welcoming and thanking the veterans and their guests for attending the 29th annual event. Presenting plaques of gratitude to the sponsors who partnered up with Kiwanis and Snowline Unified School District, he moved on to announcing his World War II adventure to Europe, inviting everyone to follow the path of “The Band of Brothers” mission on a trip next year. Mr. Anton commented on the turn-out for the night’s dinner, saying, “We started out small, and it just grew on its own. Without Daniel Flores and my Kiwanis family, such as Nikki Wilson and Karen Frazier, this event would not happen.” He also said, “There are others too numerous to mention, but truly, this event has brought not only veterans together but a great and special community of patriots.”
Bridging the gap between generations, Junior and High school students and staff from Heritage and Serrano High Schools seemed expert at making our local veterans feel at home. Educator and Historian Todd Anton can chalk up another successful event to his community service tally. His skill in bringing volunteer talent to a worthy cause is evident in the loyalty the teens in his charge display. Happily dispatching their duties, the Heritage Builders Club provided service with a smile as they brought out the dinner entrees of Pulled pork with cheesy mashed potatoes and coleslaw.
Many of our service veterans and volunteers proudly dressed in full regalia, while most preferred more casual attire. Truly, this was a veteran’s event, with many wearing black vests and black caps displaying badges of merit and medals showing tour of duty or battalion information. Our gallant servicemen and women were not the only well-decorated subjects that evening. The Kiwanis Volunteers were busy carving slices of some well-decorated cakes for dessert. Besides a scrumptious brownie, designer cake in a myriad of flavors was offered after dinner to everyone’s delight. Free Starbucks coffee was a popular treat for the group as well.
Educator Adam Chacon, Serrano CTE Fire Explorer Captain O. Tod Hunter, and CTE Explorer Captain Aiello kept order and provided crowd control for safety. When asked what makes this event so important? In unison, they said, “We appreciate their sacrifice, which allows us to be free.” Their service to the community is a valiant showing of gratitude to our military personnel who fought to protect these freedoms. Assisting San Bernardino Fire Station 10, the group participates in social events like blood drives, firewood distribution days, and the many local street fairs in Wrightwood, Pinon Hills, and Phelan.
Marine Veteran Rory Aguilar, a “Wounded Warrior,” served by operating heavy equipment for the Navy Seebees. Now his two Service dogs, “Gin” and “Tonic,” serve him, one for PTS detection, and one is a mobility assistant. They also are beloved pets and sidekicks. These veteran stories could fill volumes, each with details, grim and glorious. One thing is for certain, Freedom has come at an immeasurable price. Remembering our Armed Forces personnel by promoting events like the High Desert Veterans Dinner and Veteran’s Day is a way to help pay back for their service. This is how we can really let our Freedom ring. God bless America, and God bless our veterans of war.