By Janee Law
Two days before Christmas, at Bellerose Avenue Elementary School in East Northport, Krista Donohue stopped her kindergarten class after their winter wonderland school walk through and asked her students to think about what they will be wishing for in their letter to Santa before the group headed back to class.
While some students asked for a Hess Truck or “Pie Face Showdown,” Keira Kucich, 5, of Northport, wished for her “daddy to come home for Christmas.”
Her father, Erik, a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, has been away for eight months and has been serving in the Middle East for the past six months.
Dressed in a Santa-inspired pajama dress and black boots, with her father’s dog tags hanging from her neck, Keira turned the corner of the hallway and began walking up the stairs to the classroom. But a series of voices calling her name prompted her to turn around.
She did, and her wish to Santa was granted. Her uniformed father stood next to the desk in the main lobby of the elementary school. Krista, with a smile on her face, ran over to embrace him.
“She walked right passed the desk and when she turned and saw me she was definitely surprised and elated,” Erik, 42, said. “She was super happy.”
A video of the moment is posted online Northport.k12.ny.us.
Lori Beekman, principal of the school, said this was the first time the school indulged in this particular type of surprise.
“Keira had no idea that he was going to be in school and her mom was there the whole time so she got to witness the whole thing too,” Beekman said. “It was very special for us as a building to see that. We work with our children in so many ways, certainly in academics and socially. But the emotional piece is so important and that certainly was a special moment that brought it all together.”
Leading up to the moment, Erik, of Northport, said he was “super emotional” and “couldn’t wait.”
“I’m very grateful to do my service and be a part of what’s happening in the world right now. That means a lot to me and my family. That being said, the hardest part of this whole experience is being separated from my family,” he said.
After Erik was told in October that he was going to make it home for Christmas, his wife, Keri, along with Donohue, began planning the surprise two weeks before.
After brainstorming different ideas, Donohue said, the pair decided to surprise her at the end of the winter wonderland walk through. During the walk through, students dressed in holiday pajamas passed classroom doors decorated with characters and settings from different books they’ve read, and discussed themes from the books as they passed the doors.
“I knew how much she missed him and how much her dad means to her,” Donohue said. “She expressed that often throughout the school day.”
Donohue continued, “A lot of people during Christmas time want these big extravagant gifts and all she wanted was to see her dad. It was really nice to be able to make that happen for her.”
After Keira’s wish was granted, she turned to her classmates and said her new wish was for her friends to get what they want for Christmas, Donohue said.
“She’s such a sweet girl and has a really big heart,” Donohue said.
Along with Keira, Erik and his wife also have 17-month-old twins, Greyson and Lily. Erik has been serving the military for 9 years and works in psychological operations. He will be returning to the Middle East next week and will permanently return home in the spring.
Following the surprise, Erik stopped in the classroom and then Keira left early that day to spend the day with her father.
She hasn’t left his side ever since, Erik said.