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Spirit of Freedom 2021

Sixteen Idahoans are recipients of the 2021 Spirit of Freedom: Idaho Veterans Service Award. The award recognizes Idaho veterans and volunteers for their outstanding service to our country and its veterans. As of 2021, Senator Crapo has awarded 350 Spirit of Freedom Awards since the award’s creation in 2002. The awardees represent some of the many deserving individuals in our communities. The following biographies for the 2021 award recipients highlight their significant contributions to our country and its veterans.

Veterans

  • Michael J. Crowley, Idaho Falls: The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Idaho State Council, nominated Michael J. Crowley, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Vietnam War and later in the Reserves.  Mike is recognized as a true community servant dedicated to helping veterans of all ages.  Mike worked in management with Kmart Corporation for 41 years, during which he began meeting a community need of collecting toys with the store to donate to charities.  Through this effort, he formed a relationship with Toys for Tots, and worked with the organization for 20 years in southeastern Idaho.  He became the Eastern Idaho Toys for Tots Regional Coordinator after retiring from Kmart.  Mike has also served in leadership positions for the VVA, Disabled American Veterans and American Legion.  He also supports fellow veterans by attending picnics for returning servicemembers, offering an ear to those who need it, and as an active supporter of the Veteran Mobility Corps, providing veterans with needed wheelchairs.  Mike and his wife of 51 years, Michele, have seven children and 11 grandchildren.     
  • Preston Funkhouser, Clearwater: The Crea-D’Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3520 of Grangeville nominated Colonel Preston Funkhouser, who served 27 years in the U.S. Army. Colonel Funkhouser served in intelligence in the Vietnam War and earned many awards and recognitions for his extensive and honorable service. This includes his earning the Legion of Merit two times, the Bronze Star Medal three times, Meritorious Service Medal four times and many, many more honors. After his admirable service to our country, he went on to a commendable civilian profession of serving his community in law enforcement and Search and Rescue. He also worked 17 years as a Federal Investigator and served as Vice Commander with the American Legion in Cascade. Preston has four children, and his oldest son followed in his footsteps serving in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years.
  • Kenneth “Parker” Harger, Meridian: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Boise nominated Parker Harger, a Marine Corps Veteran, who continuously helps others through various groups and inspires others to join his efforts. Parker joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and served 5 years throughout the U.S. and overseas, earning the rank of Sergeant and numerous recognitions. After his honorable discharge from the military in 2007, he worked in Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) for the Idaho State Police and in IT for an Idaho-based company. Then, in October of 2020, he started his own non-profit, SoGood!, dedicated to spreading kindness and helping others. His first of many thoughtful projects was making mobile video-call carts to enable veterans and the elderly to call family members during the pandemic. His supportive family, including his wife, daughter and four boys often join him at the events.
  • Todd Johnson, Pocatello: Bannock County Veterans Services nominated Todd Johnson, who helps veterans to succeed after service. Todd served as an Airborne Infantryman in the U.S. Army, and he is Director of the Veteran Student Service Center at Idaho State University (ISU). Todd earned many recognitions during his four years of military service that include the Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Service Ribbon and many more. Todd is known as someone who is there for veterans long after the normal workday. He is kind and compassionate with an extraordinary willingness to listen. Todd and his wife, Tanya, have a daughter, and they care for ISU’s Veteran Student Service Center Support Animal, Hero. Melissa Hartman, Coordinator for Bannock County Veterans Services, wrote, “Todd is the best friend of anyone he meets. His generosity and sincerity have a way of calming those around him and reassuring them in times of high stress and life changes.”
  • Cynthia Jones, Boise: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Boise nominated Cynthia Jones, who had a more than 18-year career in the U.S. Navy that included serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Cynthia joined the military to obtain an education and keep her seven brothers and sisters safe from terrorists. Cynthia served her first 10 years as an Illustrator Draftsman and the last as a Paralegal/Court Reporter. Throughout her service, she had many remarkable experiences, including being the first female to have the honor to carry the American Flag in the Ceremonial Guard in Washington, D.C. She earned the rank of Petty Officer First Class and many recognitions for her honorable service. These include the Joint Service Commendation, Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy Achievement Medal and many others. She has also enjoyed continuing to serve her community as a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), VFW Auxiliary 3465, Fleet Reserve Association Branch 382 and other veterans organizations.     
  • Rondal H. Lang, Filer: American Legion District #5 nominated Rondal H. Lang, who served our country for more than 20 years, including service in Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Bosnia. He served in the Army National Guard for more than three years, before joining the Army in 1985. He earned the rank of Sergeant First Class and numerous recognitions for his honorable service. They include three Meritorious Service Medals, seven Army Commendation Medals, six Army Achievement Medals and many more. Rondal has been married to his wife, Rita, for 37 years. He has three children and eight grandchildren. His career following his military service includes working for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 15 years. He has also devoted considerable time to his fellow veterans though serving in many leadership roles for veterans organizations. These include serving as the Commander of American Legion Post 47 for seven years; Vice-Commander for American Legion’s 5th District for two years; and serving as Chaplain for American Legion’s 5th District for three years.
  • Oscar Mirl Nye, Jr., Kuna: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7019 nominated Oscar Mirl Nye, Jr., who served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Lockwood during the Vietnam War. In the course of his more than eight years of service, he earned the rank of Storekeeper First Class and a number of medals and awards, including the Combat Action Ribbon, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross and Vietnam Service Medal. He later served aboard the USS Juneau. After his discharge in 1979, he returned to Boise with his wife, Barbara, his high school sweetheart he married before leaving for Basic Training, and his four children. Oscar and Barbara also have six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Following his military service, he worked in a variety of retail jobs, and in 2001, he took a screener position with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration. He has also assisted with a number of community efforts and organizations.
  • Rick Sample, Boise: The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery nominated Rick Sample, who served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves collectively for more than a decade, and has volunteered at the cemetery since 2018. Rick assists with welcoming and consoling families and supporting annual events at the cemetery. He is recognized as someone who can be counted on to assist with only a moment’s notice. James A. Earp, State Veterans Cemetery Bureau Chief, wrote, “Rick brings with him the professionalism, care, and compassion to those he is around.” His military service included serving as a Helicopter Missile System Repairer and Drill Instructor. His civilian career includes 20 years as a Corrections Officer with the California Department of Corrections and 22 years as a Fuel Truck Driver. Rick and his wife of 32 years, Jeanne, have five children and seven grandchildren.
  • Donald Shaffer, Boise: The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery nominated Donald Shaffer, who served as a U.S. Army Medic during the Vietnam War and volunteers at the cemetery. Don, who often leads services to welcome and console families, is recognized by the cemetery as having a dedication to the cemetery’s mission that extends beyond most others. James A. Earp, State Veterans Cemetery Bureau Chief, wrote, “Don brings with him the professionalism and attention to detail of many years of active participation in the American Legion and as a long-standing member of the Ada County United Veterans Council. As a weekly volunteer during committal services, he displays strength and compassion with a great sense of duty, service, and initiative.”
  • Dale Smith, King Hill: The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3646 of Glenns Ferry nominated Colonel Dale Smith due to his decades of military experience, tenure and leadership within VFW and his service in the community of Glenns Ferry. Dale served nearly 27 years in the U.S. Air Force, earning the rank of Colonel and numerous recognitions for his honorable service that include the Legion of Merit Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Meritorious Service Medal. His service included flying combat missions over Vietnam and Laos. He then transitioned to the maintenance career field before retiring and moving to King Hill with his wife, Vicki, and their two children. Since attending a VFW Post 3646 meeting in 1995, at which he was promptly elected Post Commander and held the post for 25 years, Dale has also served as the Department of Idaho VFW Commander, and received the VFW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. He has been a high school baseball coach since 1997 and has enabled opportunities for the VFW Post to greatly transform the baseball field and upgrade the softball complex as well. The extensive list of other community projects and organizations he has supported include his service as Chamber of Commerce President and on the board of the St. Luke’s Elmore Foundation.

Volunteers

  • Paul Anderson, Pocatello: Bannock County Veterans Services nominated Paul Anderson, who has given extensively of his time over the past 15 years to assisting veterans through many efforts, as he feels it is the right thing to do and his way of giving back to those who served.  He has kept veterans and their families informed about veterans services and events through radio airtime.  With two radio stations, Paul provides a live remote each year from the Idaho Field of Heroes Memorial Event and promotes the event with announcements during his morning shows.  Melissa Hartman, Coordinator for Bannock County Veterans Services, wrote, “His enthusiasm to serve those who serve and have served is a force to be reckoned with. . . . It is people like Paul who help make our community what it is today, kind, generous, and thoughtful.”
  • Estela Benavidez, Burley: Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3043 nominated Estela Benavidez, who was nominated for her steadfast willingness to help those in need. Estela’s husband’s service in Vietnam inspired her to join the VFW Auxiliary where can readily help veterans and promote patriotism. When nominating Estela, Russell Ludlow with the Post noted Estela worked alongside her husband to make a good, safe home for her children and grandchildren, and he wrote, “She is always helping where we need her and always giving a smile to all.”
  • David A. Blanton, Priest River: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2909 nominated David A. Blanton, who has a long history of assisting his fellow veterans through the VFW and Marine Corps League. Dave’s Father’s 21 years of service in the U.S. Air Force inspired Dave to follow in his footsteps and join the military. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1966 and served until 1976, which included 2 years of service in Vietnam. He then enlisted in the Air Force Reserve, and his squadron was activated in support of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Dave’s service continues to this day supporting the military and helping veterans. He enjoys doing the things that make life a little better for veterans and is particularly proud of serving as the Veteran Service Officer for the VFW Post 2909 and seeking out veterans in need of help. This includes his devotion of many hours at the VA clinic assisting in getting COVID-19 vaccinations to veterans.
  • Tressa Brophy, Boise: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Boise nominated Tressa Brophy, who has given extensively of her time to making life better for veterans even though she often has worked 60 hours per week or more at her job. Tressa comes from a family of many veterans in all branches of service, and her parents’ service to veterans inspired her to help, too. Tressa is known as someone who is always generous with her time and resources. She has volunteered at St. Mark’s Catholic Parish assisting with the annual fundraiser for the Council of Catholic Women (CCW), and she first became connected to assisting at the Veterans Home when it was the recipient of a CCW fundraiser. She finds many ways to spread cheer and support the veteran residents by supplying craft activities, decorating for the holidays, providing games and sharing homemade cookies. Her family reports she often tries new recipes out on the family to see if they are good enough for the veterans.
  • Wendell Thomas, Grangeville: The Crea-D’Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3520 of Grangeville nominated Thomas Wendell for his work with hospice care and his commitment to being with veterans in their final days and hours. Wendell served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and he is dedicated to continuing to serve others within the veteran and civilian communities. Some of the volunteer efforts he has been involved with include serving with the Camas Prairie Honor Guard and working with the Veteran Center. When asked about a particular volunteer activity that has stood out for Wendell, he recalled his experience being with a Korean War Veteran who received his Award for Korean Service in his final days. The veteran received his award before passing, and Wendell recalled the smile on the veteran’s face was well worth the effort.
  • Diana Titus, Fruitland: The Vietnam Veterans of America, Idaho State Council, nominated Diana Titus, who has served veterans for 53 years. Diana started volunteering through USO tours in Vietnam and other Pacific locations as well as Europe, the Mediterranean, Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Thailand and Alaska from 1968 to 1971, and she continues performing for veterans at the Boise VA Medical Center and the Idaho State Veterans Home. She also works as a transporter with the VA Volunteer Services Department. She was instrumental in the planning of the dedication ceremony for the Boise Vietnam Veterans Memorial Monument in Veterans Memorial Park and spearheaded the annual reading of the names of Idaho servicemembers killed in Vietnam. Diana’s love of service to others has inspired her volunteer work. A standout volunteer experience of Diana’s is when, as a past Miss Idaho, she took a reigning Miss Idaho to visit a hospice patient, and what a special day it turned into for all three of them.