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Donations for a Fallen Soldier

Family of an American soldier killed in Iraq starts a foundation to send school supplies and toys to Iraqi children.

For Patty Stubenhofer, the concept of hope is something she sees when she looks into her daughter's eyes. Each time she holds 8-month-old Hope Riley, Stubenhofer is also reminded of the ultimate sacrifice her husband Mark, a U.S. Army captain, gave in pursuit of hope while fighting in the war in Iraq last year.

"We named her Hope because of the hope for the children of Iraq and everywhere. He believed in what they were doing over there, and he wanted to bring them hope," said Patty Stubenhofer.

On Dec. 7, 2004, Capt. Mark Stubenhofer was killed in action in Iraq as his infantry unit was attacked by insurgents outside its vehicles in Baghdad. The 30 year old was on his second tour of duty in Iraq, and had earned a Bronze Star during a tour in 2003. He left behind his wife Patty, and their three children, Lauren, Justin and Hope, who was born after he began his second tour.

The months following Stubenhofer's death have been challenging for his family. Mother and father Sallie and Norm Stubenhofer, who live in Springfield, are still coming to terms with the fact that their son, a member of the varsity baseball team, Key Club and student government while at West Springfield High, has given his life for his country. They say Mark, however, was the consummate soldier.

"The two greatest loves in his life were his family and his country. I think every one of us here, his brothers and sisters, his Dad and I, everybody recognized that in him right away," said Sallie Stubenhofer.

Mark Stubenhofer was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and shortly after his death, the Stubenhofer family began thinking about ways to carry on Mark's work in Iraq.

"Back in December, there was this reoccurring theme, with children and hope," said Erin Murray, Mark Stubenhofer's sister. "At his memorial service in Kansas, one of his comrades spoke and said that Mark had said when an Iraqi child comes running as fast as he can so he can watch the tanks go by and wave, that makes it all worth it."

Murray and Patty Stubenhofer hit upon the idea of establishing a foundation — Mark's Hope — that would provide a way for them to support the military efforts in Iraq.

"They wanted to go forward with one of his dreams and maybe down the road somehow further the cause of freedom and peace through the children," said Sallie Stubenhofer. "He said, as far as he was concerned, the hope for these people to have a free life was in the children."

THE FOUNDATION is accepting donations of school supplies, toys and cash, with the goal of sending all collected items to Mark Stubenhofer's old division, the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry, in Iraq, to be distributed to children in Iraq. Locally, donations are being accepted at West Springfield High School, Messiah United Methodist Church in Springfield and through several local Boy and Girl Scout troops. In addition, similar efforts to collect supplies have started at Fort Riley, Kan., and in Germany; Hawaii; Erie, Pa.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Flemington, N.J., where Murray lives.

The goal, said Sallie Stubenhofer, is to celebrate Mark's birthday, April 18, by sending all the donations overseas. High on the list, she said, were soccer balls, since Iraqi children have enthusiastically embraced the sport following the success of the national team at the Athens Olympics.

The success of this year's efforts will determine whether or not the foundation will become an annual endeavor.

Working with Mark's Hope isn't always a sunny task. For Murray and her two brothers and one sister, the foundation is often a reminder of sibling's death.

"We were able to celebrate him coming home the first time, but we've also had to see him make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. We're extremely proud of what we've accomplished, but every step we make is a constant reminder of what we've lost," said Murray. "But it didn't take Mark dying for us to realize he was a hero. We told him that while he was alive. That's, I think, what's carrying us through right now."