Holy Rosary Catholic School in Idaho Falls held its annual Heroes Lunch on Tuesday, the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

School administrators invited local first responders and members of the military to eat lunch and converse with students, hoping the students would learn to appreciate local service members.

The event began with a flag-raising ceremony in front of the school, where students, administrators and their guests recited the pledge of allegiance and said a prayer.

Holy Rosary Principal Carina VanPelt, whose grandfather, father and husband all served in the military, gave a speech about her personal connection and gratitude for first responders and military members.

Then, the party moved inside for lunch: a barbecue pulled-pork sandwich, carrots, pineapple, salad and milk.

According to VanPelt, older students have history lessons about 9/11 but most of the younger students don’t make the connection between the Heroes Lunch and the 9/11 attacks. Administrators focus instead on encouraging students to appreciate service members in the local community.

Vanessa Prairie, a Holy Rosary administrator in charge of planning the Heroes Lunch, said to prepare for the sixth annual event students made decorations for the lunchroom and had lessons about patriotism.

”We have a lot more students in the school this year so we feel strongly that we are touching a lot of different members in the community through the children,” Prairie said.

Edward Zaladonis, 63, of Idaho Falls, served four years in the United States Air Force and worked for 35 years at the local Naval Reactors Facility. He also has three granddaughters who attend Holy Rosary.

“They’ve developed a lot more respect for that kind of a service since they’ve been around people that do it,” Zaladonis said.

Early in the lunch, some police officers rushed out of the cafeteria, responding to an emergency dispatch call. Zaladonis took the opportunity to finish the officers’ lunch.

“I’m just getting ahead of the cleanup here,” said Zaladonis, who graduated from Holy Rosary in the 1960s and now volunteers there washing dishes to keep busy during retirement.

One officer who stayed behind during the emergency call was Bryan Lovell, 44, of Bonneville County. Lovell, a sergeant for the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office, was likely the most popular officer in the room as he passed out sheriff badge stickers.

“Sitting down with these kids, having lunch with them and talking to them and answering questions and seeing their happy faces, it’s a good feeling,” Lovell said.

Students peppered Lovell with questions about his police car, whether he’s arrested people and what the fuss was about on the officers’ radios. The emergency call was resolved quickly, Lovell said, but students wanted regular status updates.

While Lovell faced interrogation, Kendra Campbell, 9, of Idaho Falls played four square — a popular playground game — with a firefighter.

“They have a fun time and we do, too” Campbell, a fourth-grader, said.

When asked whether she has family members who serve in the military or as public safety officers, Campbell said she has an uncle in the “submarines.” She later confirmed that she meant “the Marines.”

“I’m glad for everybody that came to the hero lunch today,” Campbell said of the first responders present. “They save our country for us and they save other people. It would be cool if I could be one one day.”

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

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