It was a night to remember for Aleks and Serena Kisseloff.
The siblings were more like superstars as they celebrated an emotional evening with friends, family and 40,000 cheering Cardinals fans at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Each had the chance to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, watch the players take batting practice and get their autographs during a game in early September.
But the pair was not without heavy hearts.
In May 2010, Aleks and Serena lost their father, Denis, a sergeant in the National Guard serving in Afghanistan. He was killed in action when insurgents attacked his unit with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. The children had lost their mother to illness two years earlier.
Aleks and Serena shared some laughs under the stadium lights, keeping their parents close to their hearts.
Veterans United Foundation organized the special event to present the Kisseloff family with its first “Military Hero Award,” which it gave Denis posthumously. Foundation representatives also surprised Aleks and Serena with a $50,000 donation toward their college educations.
“It touches my heart, and it shows that people care,” said 13-year-old Serena.
She and her 12-year-old brother grinned as they stood in front of the check with family, friends and Veterans United employees. The donation will help them attend college, a dream they both share.
With an education all but locked up, there’s a certain peace of mind for their grandparents, Mila and Michael Kisseloff, who now raise Aleks and Serena in St. Charles, Mo. They’re thankful that for now their grandchildren can just be kids, enjoy great memories of their parents and not have to worry about financial stability.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for this wonderful gift,” Mila said.
The Kisseloffs were joined by seven of Denis’ National Guard comrades, including close friend Spc. Ernest Roberts. Roberts shared some of his favorite memories of Denis, including his love of mint chocolate chip ice cream, his attempts at learning how to skateboard and how he always talked about the kids he loved so dearly.
Brig. Gen. David Irwin was also excited to be there to honor the children and help Veterans United make the ceremony memorable.
“You will never know what this means to those kids,” Irwin said. “Your company and Veterans United Foundation are something so special and unique. Please share with Veterans United employees that I felt very fortunate to be there, and I wish I could thank them all in person.”
Although the Cardinals lost in extra innings after a two-hour rain delay, nothing could dampen the siblings’ spirits. They spent an evening with loved ones and a stadium full of people who joined them to commemorate the sacrifices and service that defined their parents.
“Aleks and Serena have been through more than we should ever ask children to go through,” Veterans United Foundation Director Megan Sievers said. “This donation is simply a way for us to show our support for their father, their family and their service to our country.”