Perry High School Freshman Rachel Kinney, 14, got a surprise in her 8 a.m. class Monday when her uncle, Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Tolle, 29, of Perry made an unannounced visit to Peter Meis’ first-period science class in order to surprise his niece.
Tolle has been stationed in Afghanistan since January with the Army’s 833rd Engineering Company. He is an eight-year veteran of the US Army.
Kinney’s mother, Jacque Kinney, arranged the secret visit in advance after she learned that Tolle would be debriefed at Ft. Hood and then return to Ottumwa for a company homecoming on Saturday.
"We’ve been friends for ever," Jacque said of Tolle. "He’s not Rachel’s real uncle but a great family friend, and we’ve been calling him her uncle since she was born."
Tolle and his wife of eight years, Stacy, arrived at PHS shortly after 8 a.m. and made their way to Rachel’s classroom. Meis, himself a veteran of the US war in Afghanistan, was in on the plan.
Tolle himself had a surprise of his ownSaturday when he got to meet in person his 3-month-old daughter, Caytlinn, for the first time. He and Stacy have three older daughters, Hannah, 7, Makenzie, 5, and Abbi, 3.
When Tolle left Meis’ room, he was greeted in the hallway with applause from a group of PHS students and staff who had gotten wind of his arrival. Tolle seemed pleased and moved by the recognition.
The full Perry High School Concert Band then saluted Tolle as he walked down the hall with a rendition of "America the Beautiful."
Band Director Steve Cook said the band was assembled hastily, with about a five-minute notice, but all the members participated.
"We’re always happy to honor our veterans," Cook said. "It’s the least we can do."