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Poster of 'hometown hero' 1st in class in national contest

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
The poster that won Alexis Arce first place in a national Veterans Day poster contest. Her inspiration came from Donald McGhee, a World War II Navy veteran. Photographed at his Springdale Township home on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Alexis Arce reads the plaque she received for winning a national Veterans Day poster contest to the veteran who inspired her, Donald McGhee, a World War II Navy veteran, at his Springdale Township home on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
The plaque that Alexis Arce won in a national Veterans Day poster contest on veterans won inspire them. Her inspiration came from Donald McGhee, a World War II Navy veteran. Photographed at his Springdale Township home on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

When 9-year-old Alexis Arce decided to have fun with a craft project that honors veterans, she learned more about one local vet than she expected.

The fourth-grader at Colfax Upper Elementary participated in the Paralyzed Veterans of America Veterans Day Poster and Essay Contest.

Among the 700 entrants nationwide, the Springdale girl placed first among third- and fourth-graders.

Alexis chose longtime family friend Donald McGhee, 87, to profile for the project because this year's theme for the contest was “Show or tell a personal story about a veteran who has made a difference in your life or hometown.”

Paralyzed Veterans of America started the contest to creatively and actively involve America's youth in the celebration of Veterans Day.

McGhee, a Springdale Township resident, is a former Allegheny Valley School District superintendent. He's the namesake of the high school's Donald G. McGhee gym.

When she won the contest, Alexis received two copies of the poster she created from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. It depicts important points in McGhee's life on red and blue stars, with a picture of her and McGhee sitting together on his couch in the corner of the poster.

Alexis gave one of the copies to McGhee.

“That is something to treasure,” McGhee said. “I'm very honored.”

The school district received a plaque for Alexis' award, and she received a $100 gift certificate to the Discovery Channel Store.

Paralyzed veteran Robert Morris of Uniontown came to the school to present Alexis with her awards.

“She doesn't truly understand how big of a deal it is,” said her mother, Sharon Arce. “One day she will.”

When a teacher handed out information on the contest, Sharon said, Alexis initially decided to participate in the contest because she loves arts and crafts.

“I said, Pap is the only one who fits this description of a hometown hero,” Sharon Arce said. The family affectionately calls McGhee “Pap” because the families are longtime friends.

For the project, Alexis interviewed McGhee and said she learned a lot.

“Everything was interesting,” she said.

McGhee, a World War II Navy veteran, was the third superintendent of the Allegheny Valley School District, retiring in 1988 after 35 years.

He started out as a teacher in the district.

“I worked my way down to superintendent,” McGhee joked.

McGhee's wife, Elaine, said she thinks it's important for students to learn about the veterans who served their country.

McGhee agreed with his wife.

“I think they should know about the history of the country,” he said. “And why they're safe and sound.”

Sharon Arce said that was the main reason she wanted Alexis to participate in the contest.

“I explained to her everything he had to sacrifice,” Sharon said.

Kate Wilcox is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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