Simple acts of kindness

Recognition changes life of 96-year-old veteran
By: 
Melody Montgomery
Special to the News-Argus
Friday, November 29, 2019
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(From left) Geyser Superintendent Shawn Harkins, Cook Peggy Hill and Custodian Doug Felman honor Tim McAllister (front, center) with a Bronze Star in Geyser on Tuesday.

Photo by Melody Montgomery

 

A seemingly simple act of kindness can have a profoundly positive effect on the lives of our neighbors. Geyser elementary teacher Sandra Bossen and her first and second grade students recently witnessed this firsthand. 

One quiet afternoon following Veterans Day, Bossen and her class took the time to create a large “thank you” card in the form of a poster for their neighbor, Tim McAllister.

McAllister is the sole remaining World War II veteran in Geyser, and lives across the street from the school—its closest neighbor. He worked as a custodian/maintenance person at the school for almost two decades, alongside his wife, Delores. 

When McAllister was absent from the Veterans Day celebration at the school, Bossen took note, so she worked with her class to let him know they were thinking of him.

This gesture not only touched the 96-year-old veteran, but brightened the world around him. 

Shortly after the poster was delivered, McAllister’s longtime friend Peggy Hill, a cook at the school, gave Bossen a warm hug. You see, when visiting McAllister, Hill had spotted the poster displayed in his living room. After McAllister received the poster from the class, Hill noticed a difference in him. Hill said to Bossen, “It is a miracle.” She let Bossen know how much this gesture changed McAllister’s outlook and improved his life, putting a “zing” back in his step. 

McAllister himself sent the class a nice thank you, along with the original photo of when he first enlisted in the service and a gift of $100. Bossen plans to use this gift to frame McAllister’s original photo to hang in the school. The first and second grade class is working on an oral history to display alongside the photo.

While employed at the school, McAllister saved thousands of dollars through his work transforming the coal-fired boiler to an oil-fired boiler, he said.

“That was fun for me. I was young enough,” said McAllister with a smile and sparkle in his blue-green eyes.

In addition to his service to the school, McAllister served his country and saved two lives. He received a Bronze Star, but it was lost over time, and the paperwork to replace it never quite went through.

To set this right, Doug Felman, current custodian at the Geyser School, tracked down a Bronze Star on the internet. It was presented to McAllister on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at the Geyser School. 

“This really made my life,” said McAllister.

School employees Hill, Felman, Bossen and Superintendent Shawn Harkins organized the event, which coincided with the school’s Thanksgiving dinner. McAllister received the added surprise to what he thought was to be just dinner at the school. 

He received a glass shadow box with the Bronze Star, a United States flag, his military photo and a photo representing his Western days. 

Regarding his Western days, McAllister has lived a rich cowboy and horse-riding life. He worked with race horses and as a rodeo pickup rider for the Calgary Stampede, and broke quarter horses.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything … I don’t know why anybody called me ‘trouble’,” said McAllister, with a sweet grin. “I’ve had an interesting life.”

McAllister’s dad was from Quebec. He rode with Charlie Russell and was the first rider in the Little Belts, herding cattle. His mother was from Minnesota.

McAllister is the second to youngest of 15 children. His mother and two brothers died tragically from spinal meningitis when he was just 4 years old. His father, who never remarried, was left to raise the children on his own.

“I don’t see how my dad did it,” said McAllister, who was initially raised at an orphanage, but never lost a sense of humor.

He recalled a time that one of the nuns at the St. Thomas Orphanage in Great Falls ripped the sheets off his bed because it was not made correctly.

“I told her to go to [heck],” he chuckled about these strong words coming from a 4-year-old toward a Sister. 

After growing up, he took his time in the military seriously. He almost was not allowed to enlist. At 5’1” and 111 pounds, he was just one pound over the cutoff. Were it not for that one pound, at least two lives, if not more, would have been lost. His Bronze medal is for the two lives he saved in the Philippines.

As the first and second graders took the initiative to recognize McAllister with a simple and sweet poster, they also were there to present the war hero with his long-lost badge of honor – the Bronze Star.

His appreciation bubbled over, offering a reminder of how a small kindness can create true joy.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” he said, “and then there’s the little kids who just made it.”

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