Three days before Thanksgiving, three young Mt. Juliet girls got a surprise of a lifetime and something they said they would give thanks for many years to come.
It was a dreary, cold day Tuesday when Donnie Rickley made his way to his daughter Abby’s school in Mt. Juliet. It was a long journey from his Army camp in Korea.
It was Rutland Elementary School’s last day before Thanksgiving break, and all the students gathered in the gym for their ritual send off and “12 Powerful Words” dance.
Up front and center was Abby Rickley. She had no idea hiding behind the curtain was her dad, Donnie. He had spent days winging his way back from Army duty in Korea to surprise his wife Marcia and his three girls, Abby, 8, Taylor, 11, and Kaylee, 5. His first surprise was for Abby and Kaylee at Rutland.
Marsha’s friend, Katie Cole, set up the “sting” and made sure the family had a happy Thanksgiving. She said Donnie and Marcia have been married 12 years.
“During their marriage, Donnie has served in Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo,” said Cole. “He has missed so many holidays, birthdays and special events. This year, I wanted to make sure he didn’t miss the Thanksgiving holiday, because these little girls are missing their dad. I wanted to prove that sometimes good things happen to good people.”
Rickley is a sergeant first class, in the 2nd Infantry Division and stationed at camp Casey in South Korea. He has served for 15 years.
Cole surprised Donnie with a plane ticket for the holidays. There was a lot of “secret-keeping,” but their plan worked out.
When her dad appeared behind her and tapped her on her shoulder, Abby’s eyes grew big and she hugged her dad and broke down in tears. They held each other as the entire student body clapped.
“It was overwhelming,” Abby said a few minutes later.
Mom Marcia stood alongside and grinned.
“Yes, she’s a bit overtaken with it all,” she said. “We are just so happy to have Donnie home for Thanksgiving.”
A few moments later this happy dad surprised Kaylee at her kindergarten Thanksgiving feast, and then later he went to West Wilson Middle School to share lunch with Taylor.
Before his arrival back home, Rickley spoke from Korea.
“I’m always excited to come home,” he said. “I can’t wait to see my family.”
Tuesday morning he was on cloud nine.
“It’s just fun,” he said. “I’m home for two weeks and we are just going to relax, chill and enjoy family time.”