As veterans, volunteers, family members, and community supporters gathered around the Delta check-in desk at Spokane International Airport on the morning of Nov. 2, Inland Northwest Honor Flight was presented $15,000 from Safeco Insurance in honor of 12-year-old Justin Peterson, “Chewelah’s little hero.” Thirty-one veterans were awaiting the departure of the final honor flight of 2012 for a once in a lifetime opportunity for an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. to see the World War II memorial.
Safeco Insurance representatives Amy Avery and Andy Thorp presented Peterson with the Safeco Community Hero Award for $5,000 and committed another $10,000 for Peterson being one of the two top voted in a national online contest where he competed against 14 other contestants. It was Peterson’s biggest one-time contribution to Honor Flight since he started fundraising in 2010.
The $15,000 brought his fundraising total to more than $45,000, enough to send an entire flight of more than 30 veterans to Washington D.C., which costs about $35,000.
The director for Inland Northwest Honor Flight, Tony Lamanna, said Peterson is the “single highest grossing individual fundraiser” for the organization.
“Every time he does something, it’s added exposure, added donations to us as well,” Lamanna said. “An amazing kid his age,” he added.
John Grumbach of Valley said he drove to Chewelah from his home every day to vote for Peterson in the Safeco online contest since he had no internet at home.
“It was so easy to do, it took 30 seconds on the computer,” Grumbach said.
Dale Storer, commander of the Chewelah VFW and Linda Storer of the VFW Auxiliary both attended the sendoff in support of the veterans and helped vote for him in the contest as well. Dale Storer said is important to support the veterans.
“I had faith he would win the contest,” Lamanna said. “It’s a statement on the community, people were dedicated to voting.”
Lamanna recounted the first time Peterson called him to tell him he was interested in raising money for the Honor Flight.
“This young man at 9 years old gave me a phone call….a squeaky little voice that was on the other end of the line in January of 2010 said ‘I want to raise money for Honor Flight, here’s my mom.'” Lamanna said during Peterson’s introduction to the crowd.
His mother Elizabeth Peterson told him Justin wanted to raise $600, enough to send one veteran on a flight, which has now increased to an average of $850 per veteran depending on airfare prices.
Lamanna said the thought was nice but did not expect his first check from Peterson, presented at the April 2010 honor flight send off, to total more than $4,000, which was raised through the original nacho feed dinner, writing letters, and a change drive.
Now everyone involved with Honor Flight is familiar with Peterson. One volunteer came by to shake Peterson’s hand, thanked him for his efforts, and he told him “You are my hero.”
Grumbach, who was president of the Chewelah Kiwanis Club when they chose Peterson as Citizen of the Year, said Peterson is “Chewelah’s Little Hero.”
Inland Northwest Honor Flight has sent 538 local area veterans to Washington, D.C. since its first flight in November 2009. Lamanna said there are 160 WWII veterans left on the waiting list and then they will move on to Korean and Vietnam veterans.
Thirty-one WWII veterans and their guardians, who pay their own way, took the final 2012 tour that departed on Nov. 2 and arrived back in Spokane on Sunday, Nov. 4.
Lamanna said, “It’s not just about a trip, it’s about thanking the veterans; showing them our gratitude.”
He said they are greeted like ‘pop stars’ throughout the trip at each airport and during the time visiting the memorial.
Grumbach said this was the first sendoff he has attended and was impressed by the entire production and by what they do for veterans now. When he came back from serving in Vietnam in the 1960s, he said he was not given any respect while wearing his uniform in the airport.
Tamara Bowman and Kevin Schalock represented the Chewelah Insurance Agency during the Nov. 2 Safeco presentation as Bowman had originally nominated Peterson for the Safeco Community Hero Award.
“It’s emotional,” Bowman said. “I didn’t realize they did such a production (for the sendoff).”
Peterson, who is a seventh grader at Jenkins Middle School, said his goal had originally increased from $600 to $50,000 by the time he graduates high school, but he has now doubled that goal.
“I set a $50,000 goal when I first started and I thought that was extravagant amount,” Peterson said. “Now it’s $100,000 I’m hoping for and probably going to get.”
Peterson has attended all but the first Honor Flight send off and continues to raise money for the organization. At the Nov. 2 flight, he donated another $1,400 to Honor Flight through his continuous wristband sales. He also sold the wristbands that day and gave away magnets advertising his March 9, 2013 nacho feed to benefit INWHF.
Inland Northwest Honor Flight is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. For information on how to donate, go to www.inwhonorflight.org.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Pictured (L-R) Andy Thorp, Tamara Bowman, Kevin Schalock, Amy Avery, Tony Lamanna, and Justin Peterson at the Nov. 2 Honor Flight send off in Spokane.