What began as a Read Across America Week assembly Friday morning at Indian Camp Elementary School in Pawhuska turned into a celebration of family and community connections.


Principal Amy Sanders — dressed as The Cat in the Hat and reading a Dr. Seuss book titled “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” — had a big secret to spring on the children in her care, and especially on second-grader Preslee Reeves.


Reeve’s uncle, Spec. Kevin Mahan, 22, who returned stateside a month ago after a deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Cavalry Regiment, entered the school gym/cafeteria as the students began to say the Pledge of Allegiance.


“It worked out perfectly,” Sanders said later. When Preslee realized who had come to visit her she approached her uncle and he picked her up for a big hug. Mahan, dressed in his fatigues, enjoyed a reunion with his niece that was for her both tearful and joyful.


He is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and may be sent abroad again next year on another deployment, he said. When Mahan was Preslee’s age, he was a student at Indian Camp Elementary. These days his folks live in Guthrie.


“It was a total surprise (for Preslee),” Sanders said, explaining that the family had approached the school about making the reunion take place, and the school was happy to help.


“It’s just the importance of family,” Pawhuska Superintendent David Cash said, reflecting on what made the uncle/niece reunion a special event. “I think, especially for that age group, it’s a good introduction to the military.”


Cash commented that the school district was pleased to have the opportunity to help ease the emotional burden of a military deployment for one family.


“I was just grateful they asked us to do it,” Cash said. The assembly took place on Story Book Character Day, the last day of Read Across America Week, when the children had been encouraged to come to school dressed as characters from story books.