Photo: Elburn Public Works Director John Nevenhoven smiles with his wife Melissa and son Ryan at the Blackhawks game on Feb. 15. John was one of two veterans honored prior to the game. Courtesy Photo
by Susan O’Neill
ELBURN—Elburn Public Works Superintendent John Nevenhoven served in the United States Navy for nine years of active duty before going on to college and marrying his wife Melissa. When the World Trade Center was hit on Sept. 11, 2001, their son, Ryan, was six years old.
John said he wanted to do something to contribute to his country. He knew he couldn’t do it fulltime, so he joined the Navy Reserves in November 2001. He serves one weekend a month, as well as participating in two weeks of training every year at Scott Air Force Base outside of St. Louis. He was deployed to Afghanistan for a year in 2006, and was set to go again in 2011, but his tour was cancelled at the last minute.
John has been a big hockey fan since he was in high school, and he and his family frequently watch the Blackhawks play. Melissa noted that before each game, two service members are honored, one active duty and one veteran.
She did some research, and through the USO found a contact to suggest John for the honor. That was in August 2011. The family recently received a call from a representative of the Blackhawks to set the date, and on Feb. 15, John, Melissa and Ryan showed up at the United Center at the appointed time.
John said he was escorted to the penalty box, where he stood next to Jim Cornelison, who performs the national anthem before each game. John and a veteran from the U.S. Army walked out onto the ice and saluted the flag while 21,000 fans cheered through the entire song.
“It was kind of neat to hear that crowd,” John said. “I’ve been to tons of hockey games, but this was a different feeling. Seeing those people cheering the national anthem; it’s an incredible event to be a part of, whether you’re on the ice or in the stands.”
Melissa said the whole thing was quite overwhelming, seeing John out there in his uniform.
“It was very emotional,” she said. “We’re very patriotic to begin with. I’m so extremely proud of him and our service members in general. It’s not just about John.”
What made the event even more special was that the event occurred on Ryan’s 14th birthday.
“He was pretty excited and proud,” Melissa said. “It was such a great way to celebrate.”
John is a member of the United States Transportation Command, which monitors and tracks all pieces of Department of Defense equipment shipped around the world. Whether it’s tanks or bullets, blankets or anything else that service members need during their deployment, Scott Air Force Base is the world-wide logistics hub.
Melissa said that when John joined the reserves in 2001, she stood behind his decision because she knew it was important to him. They didn’t know at the time that he would be called up to go to Afghanistan. However, she said the family has a good local support system, and when John had to leave, they made it through his time away.
“It was difficult, but we were able to email and internet chat and talk on the phone,” she said. “We were very lucky. I kept so busy that I didn’t have time to dwell on it. You do what you have to do.”
Now John has one more reason to thank his wife.
“I always wondered how the Blackhawks chose the service members,” he said. “Melissa should get the Wife of the Year award.”