Whoever said, “showing up is 80 percent of life” may well have had Olivia Vanderlinden in mind.
Eleven years ago, Olivia made the news just by showing up.
“She’s our New Year’s baby,” smiles mom Julie Vanderlinden. Olivia was the first baby born in Appanoose County in 2008.
Olivia is the daughter of Daniel and Julie Moore Vanderlinden of Centerville. Seven-year-old sister Emersyn and their dog Wrigley make for one of those All-American families living on Mikels Drive in Centerville. The Moores are a large, local family who at their core are both united and close-knit. An improbable story like this would have never had a chance if not for a family who mourns the tragedies of life together while celebrating one another’s accomplishments.
Now, it’s 2019 and Olivia is making news once again. The sixth grader’s support of her cousin, Peyton Moore, who is serving in the military has taken on a life of its own.
Julie says her oldest daughter is plenty active, “Olivia enjoys dancing, tumbling, listening to music, and hanging out with her friends. She’s involved in band, student council, 4-H, and dance.”
Despite pursuing her own activities and interests Olivia is more mature than her 11 years would suggest. She has an interest in all of her family’s well-being and is often the first one to offer help or support.
When cousin Peyton enlisted in the Army on July 3, 2018, Olivia was immediately thinking of how to support him.
Mother Julie explains, “Olivia missed Peyton soon after he left for basic training. She decided that Peyton deserved to have a little piece of home and comfort because of the sacrifices he’s making. That’s how she came up with the idea.”
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS PEYTON
Peyton is the son of Michelle and Michael Moore. Michael and Julie are brother and sister, which makes Olivia and Peyton cousins.
Moore had enlisted in the Army while still a senior at Centerville High School. Immediately following graduation on July 3, they sent the recruit was off to basic training.
For Peyton’s Army going-away party, 31 family members showed up, all wearing a personalized T-shirt. The olive-green shirt pops with the bright yellow letters of ARMY on the front and the back of the shirt reads, “IN THIS FAMILY, NO ONE FIGHTS ALONE.”
Moore’s first stop was at Ft. Benning in Georgia where he would go through the basic training. In December of last year, many of the Moore family made the trek to Georgia to celebrate their soldier’s graduation from basic training.
Now Private First Class Moore serves on the Ft. Benning base in New York. His grandma and matriarch of the Moore family Joyce Moore explains, “The Army is pulling soldiers out of Ft. Bragg to go to Afghanistan now. After the first of the year, they will probably call Peyton. He says this is what he signed up for. He’s excited and ready to go.”
Olivia’s close and caring relationship with her cousin Peyton reflects the other relationships throughout the Moores and their several extended families.
“Sometimes Peyton teases me like an older brother,” smiles Olivia.
Speaking from Ft. Drum, Peyton agrees, “I don’t know how to explain it but my family has always been really close to each other. When I came home for Christmas after being gone for infantry basic training, she came running when saw me. It’s just a lot of fun times.”
“Olivia always wore her jersey with my number on her back to my football games when I was playing in school,” Peyton continued. “I always tell Olivia she’s too young to have boyfriends. We both enjoy making fun of each other when I’m home.”
It isn’t hard to understand how Olivia would want to show her support for her older cousin now in the military.
THE 4-H PROJECT
Young Olivia had decisions to make. As a member of her community’s 4-H program, the county fair was looming. Every year the 4-H students would create their own projects and those with the highest grades would be entered into the county fair.
Also weighing on Olivia’s mind was how she would support her favorite football player who was now serving his country.
Oliva can’t remember if it was when she was walking home from school, or if she was on her way to tumbling class, or if the idea to beat all ideas came to her while she had the headphones on listening to music. But the solution to both of her questions did come.
Olivia would support Peyton with her 4-H project: One great project for both.
“Olivia’s idea was to make three individually themed care boxes: One box contains ready-made food that you only need to add water such as Kraft instant macaroni and cheese,” Julie said. “The second box contained various games and puzzles, and the third box would be snacks and power bars. Three boxes, three different colors, three unique themes.”
Olivia had transformed the three ordinary cardboard boxes into three separate works of art.
“I sat out on the patio and painted each box a separate color while I also made the stencils,” Olivia said. “Then I printed the decals and stickers from an app on the computer. We bought the items to put in each box, but each box had its own theme: Food, fun, and snacks.”
Olivia needed community donations to get her three care boxes entered into the 4-H contest and then mailed to Peyton.
“When I got the letter that Olivia’s fair project was about me and that I’m her hero, it really had me in my feelings,” responded Peyton.
Less than one week remained until the Appanoose County Fair and time was running out. With all the hours that Olivia had already put into the project, she still had no idea if she could enter the three care boxes into the 4-H competition, or if she really had a winning idea on how to support a cousin who was more like a big brother.
“The week before the county fair, I put a box out in Hy-Vee, Lula’s Bakery, and Joe’s Quick Shop,” Olivia said. “I made a sign that explained what the boxes were for and the things each box needed to have contributed. Once the boxes were full, I’d pick them up and them to the fair.”
The project care boxes were set up in each of the three businesses on July 8. Three days later, on the July 11, a local superhero answered the call.
DALE SALES AND HUMBLE HEROESThere lives among this Southern Iowa county-seat-town of 5,500 a few men and women who shun the limelight for themselves. Their philanthropy nature is to act behind the scenes, ensuring that others will have success.
As with most superheroes who work under an alias during the day, Dale and Dan Sales are tough to describe. Some people say the brothers are independent insurance agents, and that Dale and Dan are Cook Insurance.
Dale, who hasn’t updated his Facebook since Batman left the air, explains, “I am not a big fan of Facebook. But I saw a post about Olivia with Hy-Vee about a week before the Humble Heroes event this year.”
Humble Heroes was hosting an event on Saturday, July 13, only two days before the county fair would begin. The event at the Centerville Country Club would feature a live band, followed by an auction.
“My brother Dan and I were planning to do something special for the people that so selflessly donate their time and effort each year for Humble Heroes. We had some signs made by a local businessman and artist to present that evening,” Dale Sales said. “We had two extra signs made so when I saw the project that Olivia was working on; I reached out to my brother and Justin Zaputil with Humble Heroes with an idea.”
COUNTRY CLUB NIGHTSIt’s July 13, now less than 48 hours remain from when Olivia would have to turn in her 4-H project of the three care boxes.Nine members of the Moore family accompanied Olivia to the country club anticipating maybe an extra hundred dollars or so from the Humble Heroes auction.
Olivia’s mom Julie remembers feeling uncertain, “Dale called and told me they had a donation that would help Olivia with her project that would be mailed to Peyton serving in the Army at Ft. Drum. I appreciated it, but I didn’t know what to expect.”
The Sales brothers with Zaputil was offering to donate two items to the auction in Olivia’s name, supporting her cousin, Private First Class Peyton Moore. No one knew how much money the signs would bring, but whatever they brought was more than Olivia’s project had at the moment.
Sales was hoping the two signs together would fetch $1,000.
”With the extra signs we had, maybe we could auction them off and hopefully raise $1,000 dollars to further Olivia’s project,” Dale Sales said he thought at the time. “Dan and I have supported Humble Heroes since day one.”
CATCHING LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLEThe stage was set. The crowd at the country club moved in closer to better see the items up for auction. The auctioneer raised the microphone, ready to kick-off the bidding. Dale Sales was walking throughout the bidders holding the sign he was donating to Olivia high above his head.
The auctioneer began the bidding at $400. Ten minutes later, he gave last call. Going once? Going twice? Sold at $5,000!
The auctioneer bent over to hold up the second sign but before he could raise it over his head to begin a new round of bids, it too was sold for $5,000.
Humble Heroes would set up a trust fund of $10,000 to benefit the men and women serving our country through Olivia’s project.
Team Olivia would regroup and make plans to expand their project.
“I still have goosebumps,” said Joyce Moore a week later.
“To this day I am stunned by what transpired that evening but I am not surprised. We have seen what this organization has accomplished,” remarks Dale Sales.
“We all had tears. It was an amazing thing to watch,” says Amy Gonnerman.
“I am beyond proud of our community for stepping up and donating to such a good cause. It brought tears to my eyes,” contributes Jen White.
Olivia had caught lightning in a bottle.
MY FAIR LADYJuly 15 and finally, Olivia’s most excellent adventure was rounding the home stretch. Her three themed care boxes destined for her cousin serving in the military was at hand. It was the county fair week.
There was the hand-painted blue box, highlighted with white stencils of waves and a water faucet to symbolize that all you need to do is to add water to the various meals, heat, and serve.
There was the festive green box, with the words, ‘GAME ON’ stenciled in bright white letters. Various card games adorned the box to illustrate this box contains fun.
There was the perfectly painted red box, jumping with sharp white stars with the patriotic stencils of “HOME OF THE FREE!” This box was shouting the soldier was free to enjoy the snacks and power bars inside.
Now with the county fair over, would Peyton at long last receive his care boxes? Julie explains, “We had to keep the three care boxes because Olivia received first place at the county fair. We never imagined they would select her for the state fair. This meant Olivia would have to take the boxes to the state fair and enter them into their contest.”
Olivia won first place and a red ribbon in the citizenship category at the Appanoose County Fair. On Aug. 8, several of the Moore family was in Des Moines, on the state fairgrounds rooting on Olivia and her incredible project. She took home another red ribbon, and second place.
WHO’S THE HERO?
There’s a soldier serving in only his second year at Ft. Drum in New York. There’s an 11-year-old, sixth-grader who lives on Mikles Drive in Centerville.
“From my perspective, being a hero is something you don’t really expect to be called,” Peyton said. “It’s an honor to be someone’s hero, but I’m just doing what needs to be done.”
Which one is the hero? Maybe, for now, they’ll just be cousins who feel the love and support from family every day.