It is impossible to measure the true value of a gift by the size of the present or the dollars that are spent to obtain the gift.
True value in a gift comes from the intent of the giver and the response of the recipient.
Those are the lessons that fourth grader Sydney Pare and her older sister Maddy Ash helped others to realize early Friday morning at Skyline Elementary School.
“I’ve had the best Christmas ever and there isn’t anything that could make it any better,” Pare said after the initial shock and surprise of seeing her older sister in person at the school Friday morning.
Upon her graduation from Smith-Cotton in May of 2014, Ash entered the Army and has been away from home for the last six and a half months completing her basic training.
“I was a four year member of JROTC at Smith-Cotton and I entered the Army after graduation,” Ash said. “I wanted to do this to help with my college tuition but also because I wanted to serve my country.
Even as a little girl I wanted to be in the Army, well it was that or be a Disney Princess,” Ash added. “But this has been a really long time to be away from home and my family.”
Ash knew that she wanted to surprise her family when she was told she would have a little time off for the holidays.
“This is the first time I have been back since June and I had plans to try to surprise everyone but there was a change in my travel schedule,” Ash said. “So, I called mom (Julie Pare) and said I would like to surprise Sydney at school when I got home.
Julie Pare, the girl’s mother, talked to Skyline Principal Kelly McFatrich about the possibility of this happening and McFatrich was on board immediately.
“I wanted to make this special for the family,” McFatrich said. “I thought what can we do to have as many people involved as we could.
“The students always gather in the gym each morning so it seemed like a good way to surprise Sylvia by having Maddy surprise her there.” I had a Santa suit so it seemed like it would be neat to have Maddy in the suit handing out candy canes to all the students as they came in the building.”
Pare had no idea Ash was playing the role of Santa Clause as she patiently sat in the gym with her schoolmates.
Her (Sydney’s) father Bob Pare brought Maddy to school early because there was an event for fathers to attend that morning at the school.
“I hated to lie to her,” Bob Pare said. “But I told her that I needed to stay for a while and speak to one of her teachers about her math grade.”
He went on to explain that Sydney makes excellent grades in math but he did not want to miss seeing Sydney’s reaction to Ash’s surprise.
Sydney’s grandparents Kenny and Ellie Smith, along with their mother (Julie Pare) were hidden in a room next to the gym.
(Ray Ash, Maddy’s father had a work commitment in St. Joe but would be home to be with the family at Christmas.)
As McFatrich spoke to the students introducing Santa to them, she mentioned that there was one student who Santa needed to see.
When McFatrich called Pare to the front of the gym, Pare did not know what has happening.
“I really didn’t have any idea what was going to happen,” Pare said after the assembly. “I didn’t think I was in trouble but I didn’t really know.”
When Pare finally made the walk to the front of the gym, Ash bent down to hug her sister while still dressed in her Santa costume before removing her hat and her beard to reveal her identity.
Amidst cheers and applause, the two sisters continued to hug each another before Ash addressed the students.
“Be thankful for what you have,” Ash told the audience after explaining who she was and why she was at the school. “And be happy for what you receive.”
The family had remained in close contact throughout the time that Ash has been away at her basic training in Fort Still and Fort Sam Houston.
“I can’t tell you the number of letters we have all written and the pictures Sydney has drawn and sent Maddy,” Julie Pare said. “We Skype now but we couldn’t do that when she was in basic training, that was such a long nine weeks.”
Now stationed in Ft. Leonard Wood, Ash will remain home for the weekend before returning to the base on Monday.
“I’ll get to come home for Christmas before I report back to Ft. Leonard Wood,” Ash said. “I’ll get to come home for birthdays and those will be special too.
Ash will be in the Army for an additional three and a half years before she goes to college.
“I have four years in active duty and then I’ll spend four more in the reserves,” Ash said. “I’ve trained as a behavioral health therapist in the Army and I want to study either teaching or nursing in college.”
The family had no specific plans for their time together during the holidays but decorating cookies was mentioned as one activity they would all do together.
“I don’t know what we will do, but I know I will spend time with Maddy and love her,” Sydney Pare said. “She’s my hero because she’s my sister.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484