Tallmadge Marine Corps recruit teams up with childhood bus driver to help local veterans
Gunther Zehner will head to Marine Corps boot camp Parris Island on June 7, but before leaving, the recent Tallmadge graduate decided to give back to the local veteran community, inadvertently reuniting with an old friend.
In his final semester at Tallmadge High School, Zehner enrolled in a psychology class taught by Mark Horning, who always assigns a random act of kindness as the final project.
"You can do anything, but I want them to reflect on what it feels like to serve others," Horning explained. "You can help someone bring in their groceries, or pick up something that's spilled. A common one is people will go to Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts and buy the person behind them a coffee. It counts, but I want them to do something a little more heartfelt."
Though there is no expectation to spend money, Zehner knew he wanted to donate something. He wasn't certain what to donate or to whom but after some brainstorming with his mother, Denise, he landed on an organization that hit close to home: the Deyarmin Foundation.
Based in Tallmadge, the Deyarmin Foundation was started in 2005 by Edie Deyarmin in honor of her son Lance Cpl. Daniel "Nathan" Deyarmin Jr., who died at the age of 22 on Aug. 1, 2005, while serving with the U.S. Marines in Iraq.
The foundation helps local veterans in emergency situations pay for anything from rent to car repairs, to wheelchair ramps and appliances. The group also supports local veteran initiatives, including Freedom House in Kent, Warriors Journey Home and Honor Flights of Cleveland.
"I want to be a part of a change and help the less fortunate who served our country and give back to them because a lot of them go unrecognized for what they've done," said Zehner, who has been set on becoming a Marine since he was 5 and is now following the footsteps of his father, Jeff, and uncle Ed, both of whom are Marines.
Zehner reached out to Deyarmin via email to find out how to help, and soon realized that they already knew each other.
"I drove his school bus when he was at Munroe School," Deyarmin said. "I remember he would come on the bus with piping hot cinnamon rolls for me."
"When we made that connection, it made it 10 times better," Zehner said.
Deyarmin suggested that Zehner focus on Freedom House, a 14-bed transitional housing facility for male veterans, and helped him determine what items would be best to donate.
"I told him he could donate it himself; he didn't need to go through the Deyarmin Foundation," Deyarmin said.
Using his own money with help from his mom, Zehner ended up donating clothing, gift cards for gas and groceries, wash cloths, towels, a sleeping bag and a cooking set, and personally delivered all of the items to Freedom House with Deyarmin.
"I was like 20 questions in the car, asking him what made him pick us and peppering him with questions. It just felt good to see someone want to help and have a passion that I already have," Deyarmin said.
Four veterans currently staying at Freedom House accepted the donations and gave Deyarmin and Zehner a tour of the facilities.
Freedom House could not be reached for comment.
"What I appreciated about this was that he combined this project with his Passion Project from earlier in the year," Horning said. "He talked about how passionate he was to serve his country and combined it with this Act of Kindness Project. That a young man who could have been distracted by being a senior with a couple weeks left and wanting to hang out with his friends put his own money and time into it. It's awesome to hear."
Horning, whose own father served in Vietnam and was met by protestors when he flew into Akron-Canton Airport, now hopes to partner with the Deyarmin Foundation for future Acts of Kindness projects.
Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, email@example.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.