Members of the military don't always get a chance to hear a thank-you for serving their country. But the gratitude is still there, as three members of a Cottonwood family found out last weekend. Sgt. Dawn VanHeuveln of Cottonwood, and two of her children, Spc. Josh Ramos and Sgt. Kim Ramos, were applauded by a crowd of people at the Minnesota Timberwolves game at Target Center Feb. 4.
"It was the biggest shock, probably, of my National Guard history," Dawn VanHeuveln said.
"It was just crazy. It seemed like all the seats were full," Kim Ramos said. "And all of a sudden, everyone just stood up and applauded."
From left: Minnesota Timberwolves President Chris Wright, Spc. Joshua Ramos, Sgt. Kimberly Ramos, MMAF steering committee member Nancy McCabe, Sgt. Dawn VanHeuveln, and MMAF steering committee members Roger McCabe and Skip Krawczyk.
The recognition was part of a military tribute night at the Timberwolves game, but the three family members were also awarded $500 cash grants from the Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund. The MMAF is a statewide fundraising initiative, which provides cash grants to military service members as a way to show appreciation for their service. So far, the MMAF has awarded more than $7.8 million in grants to more than 12,500 Minnesotans.
The three family members have a slightly unusual record of military service. Dawn VanHeuveln served in the U.S. Navy for eight years before raising a family, and later joined the Army National Guard when her children were older. Josh and Kim joined the Guard not long after their mother did, and all three were deployed to Iraq in 2009 and 2010.
While the family members said they knew about the MMAF and what it does, they had "no idea" they were going to be called down to center court last weekend. Dawn VanHeuveln said she thought they were just being invited to watch the game, which was exciting by itself.
"The whole family are big sports fans," said Dawn's husband Todd VanHeuveln.
During one of the timeouts at Saturday's basketball game, Dawn, Kim and Josh were brought onto the court. Each of the three received a $500 grant from MMAF, as well as an autographed Kevin Love basketball jersey, and the appreciation of the crowd.
"It was amazing," Kim Ramos said of the experience. "I had no idea what was about to happen."
Part of what made the experience overwhelming, Dawn VanHeuveln said, was the intensity of the audience's response.
"I would never have imagined, close to two years after coming back from deployment, that we'd still be honored," she said. In some ways, she said, she didn't feel like she had done anything special. But the appreciation was still there.
Todd VanHeuveln said it was emotional for him, and for Dawn's youngest daughter Megan, to see their family members be recognized.
"I was real proud of them," Todd Van Heuveln said.
The family had plenty of fun at the game, too. They were taken to their own suite to watch the game.
"That was just beautiful, just to look out of the suite," Kim Ramos said. She, Josh, and Dawn were each given courtside tickets, which they shared with family. Three people at a time would rotate to watch part of the game close-up, Dawn VanHeuveln said.
"There are so many people to thank," Kim Ramos said. The members of the MMAF and the Timberwolves organizers who made the event possible did a great job, Dawn VanHeuveln said.
Military service is still a big part of the family's life, the VanHeuvelns said. Only a few days after the recognition at the game, both Dawn and Josh were preparing to leave for Norway as part of a troop training exchange program.