About 50 recruits from the Naval Station Great Lakes were hosted on Christmas Day at the McHenry Masonic Lodge 158 A.F. & A.M. where Frank Heabler said they cooked up at least 150 eggs and 240 sausage links and 350 pancakes for breakfast.
For many of the sailors in boot camp at the North Chicago base, who came from across the country, this is their first Christmas away from home, said Heabler, the worshipful master of the lodge, built in 1854, where Christmas Day has been hosted for the recruits since 2003.
Recruits such as Dylan Rumantier, 19, who is experiencing his first Christmas away from his family in Riverside, California. He is missing not only Christmas but a number of birthday parties that his “huge family” of more than 100 relatives gathers for this time of year, including his great grandmother’s birthday on Dec. 31. He also said, “I miss my two huskies too.”
He said he appreciates the break from the stress of the base and being able to use a cellphone and eat snacks.
Ayden Coe, 19, from California, said he appreciates the day and the break from the base.
“I’ve been cooped up on the base for a while,” Coe said adding he misses his large family back home. He looked forward to being able to Facetime with them Sunday.
Sebastian Valenzuela, 21, also from California, said he misses his family and appreciated the time away from the base to get to talk to people who are not military and to get to know his shipmates better in a more relaxed setting.
“It’s nice to release tension and (get away) from the stress of boot camp,” Valenzuela said.
Heabler said many of the Masons served in the military and they know what it is like to be away from home for the first time during the holidays.
“This is our way of giving back,” Heabler said.
The day, which also included therapy dogs, starts with breakfast, then lunch and dinner. The recruits, who are bussed to the lodge in the morning, also are provided with tablets so they can Facetime family back home and they watch movies. They return to the base about 6 p.m.
Funds for the food and supplies are donated by lodge members, local businesses and through a GoFundMe page for providing a Christmas to area Navy Sailors.
Heabler said when the lodge began feeding the recruits in 2003 he would just come in and volunteer, then go back home to his family and celebrate Christmas.
However, since 2015, he has been bringing his family to the lodge on Christmas Day and celebrating with the recruits and volunteers.
This Christmas Day, his daughter Jessica Heabler, 25, and her fiance, Michael Zielinski, and their 8-month-old dog Jackson were all in tow Sunday.
Zielinski said he was the tech guy for the day helping with the tablets, which were donated by the mason lodge in Nunda Township.
Heabler’s son, Franky, 14, played cards with a few of the recruits, while his girlfriend, Veronica Young, of Arlington Heights, and his sister, Nancy Moreno, of Huntley, were busy cooking in the kitchen in the basement of the lodge.
Heabler said today more than ever, with the world as it is, the young recruits need to know they are appreciated and “they are doing the right thing.”
“They are writing a blank check that they have no way of paying ... they could pay it with their life,” Heabler said.