Home for Christmas 2011.12.21

Written by David Green.

It took a little fibbing to pull it off, but Loni Hill got the job done.tom hill

When her girls walked into Morenci’s Pizza Box for lunch Friday, Loni told them to go on over to the adjoining room and get a seat.

When they walked around the corner, something wasn’t quite right, because there stood their father, Thomas Hill, in uniform. The girls—Andrea, Samantha, Sabrina, Mia and Maisy—knew he was coming home on leave from the Army for the holidays, but their mother said it was happening on Tuesday, after Christmas.

The little white lie made for a special early Christmas present.

“I missed you so much,” said one of the stunned twins—Andy and Sammy—as they moved in for a hug.

“I’ve missed you, too,” Tom answered.

Visits home are rare for Sergeant First Class Hill. At noon Friday, he had just completed a long 18-hour bus ride from Camp Shelby, Miss. For most of December he’s been training at Ft. Irwin, Calif., in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan. He expects to spend about nine months in the country.

Hill started his military career as a Marine and spent four years with the corps. He joined the Army National Guard in 2000 and has served in Sinai, Egypt, and in Iraq.

The surprise visit with his family was good for him, too, because it took his mind off something that also happened on a Dec. 23. That was the day in 2006 that three members of his company plus an interpreter died in a blast from an improvised explosive device in the unfriendly city of Baghdad. Two other soldiers in his company died in November that year.

SFC Hill has his family for a few days to push away those dark memories before he heads back to work.

Loni was pleased that she pulled it off, saying that she almost spilled the beans more than once.

“You said it was going to be Tuesday,” said one of the girls.

“I told you I had to pick up a present this morning,” Loni said

  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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