OLD BRIDGE — All six-year-old Abel Towers-Zeller, a kindergartener at Raymond E. Voorhees Elementary School, wanted was to have his dad, Timothy Zeller, home for Christmas.
Zeller has been away on military duty with the U.S. Army since July.
The youngster even wrote it down on a school assignment. He and his mom, Jacqueline, have crossed off days on a calendar since then awaiting his anticipated return.
Unbeknownst to Abel, his father not only came home for Christmas, but had been planning to surprise him at his school. And a big surprise it was on Dec. 17.
“At first we were thinking just to pull him out of class,” Zeller said before he surprised his son.
Jacqueline said Abel thought his dad was trying to come home.
“I’ve been telling him, ‘Aww too bad we can’t be at your assembly today, sing some songs for us,'” she said.
Kindergarten teacher Rita Soffing led Abel and his class through a performance on why caring is one of the six important pillars of good character during an assembly in front of the whole school of K-5 students. Abel proudly held up the letter “N” in the word caring.
“This is our character education program and our class was in charge of caring,” she said. “We only found out [Abel’s] dad was coming home last week and we thought it was fitting to include [his dad’s surprise] into the assembly.”
The kids sang “caring” renditions of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” and Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” and students shared how certain people — teachers, crossing guards and peers — have been caring to them.
Toward the end of the assembly, Principal Courtney Lowery gave out certificates to students who have gone above and beyond to show they are caring. One of the students awarded was Abel.
She announced the students wrote cards to the men and women in the military and asked if any of the students could suggest where they should send the cards. Abel proudly raised his hand and before anyone could answer, Abel’s dad ran towards him.
For a split second, Abel looked at his dad, who was in full uniform. Then he smiled and ran into his arms as students and staff members cheered and clapped.
When asked how he felt about seeing his dad, Abel shyly replied, “Great” before snuggling himself back into his dad’s neck. When Timothy asked Abel if he had any idea he was coming to his school, Abel shook his head.
Zeller has been stationed at Fort Irwin in California. This has been the first time he has been away from his family for an extended period of time. He last saw Abel in person on July 6. He said the family uses Facebook Live to communicate; however, the time difference has made it difficult.
“By the time I get to come home from work it’s 7 o’clock at night and it’s already 10 o’clock here,” he said.
Jacqueline said by that time, Abel is in bed for school the next morning.
Also there for the surprise was Zeller’s mom Cindy Santiago; his older brother Richard, who also served in the U.S. Army; and Jacqueline’s mother Janet Towers.
Zeller is home until Dec. 28 before he has to go back to duty.
Contact Kathy Chang at email@example.com.