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Serving Those Who Served

Ryan Cody and his wife.

Saluting Our Veterans

More than 350 veterans of the U.S. armed forces chose to attend St. Louis Community College this year, and our College is proud to support them in every step of their educational journey. We know they sacrificed to serve our nation and we want to provide every opportunity for them to succeed in whatever they pursue. As we celebrate Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 11, STLCC is highlighting veterans who attend classes on our four main campuses. A new story will appear Monday-Thursday, leading up to the holiday.

We encourage you to read these stories for details and we ask that you please join us in thanking our veterans for their service.

As a member of the Missouri Army National Guard since 2010, Ryan Cody is used to wearing a uniform. But for the last three years, he’s put on another uniform during the winter holidays - dressing as Santa Claus during his unit’s holiday party to give donated toys to the children of soldiers.

It’s all part of how he gives back to the institution that has shaped him for the last dozen years.

Ryan Cody and childCody, 33, is finishing his fourth semester at St. Louis Community College-Meramec. He will transfer to the University of Missouri-St. Louis in the spring to pursue a degree in secondary education to become a high school English teacher. After that, he plans to earn a master’s degree in either education or literature. But his trajectory was not always so planned.

“I originally joined (the National Guard) when I was 21 or 22 and was primarily living in my car, couch surfing or getting evicted from apartments within a year,” he said. “I also had a habit of drinking every dollar I got. I wasn’t happy with my life, and I knew I was better than that, so I thought that maybe joining the military would help.”

Joining the National Guard didn’t fix things right away, according to Cody, but “it did help pave the way for me to improve my life.”

That path took multiple directions after Cody returned from a deployment, yet they all pointed in the direction of serving others. Upon his return, he was a full-time unit training sergeant with his National Guard company. In that position, he recognized there were many great education benefits for military members—even using them himself when he returned to school. But there weren’t in-depth guides to explain the benefits. He felt more was needed.

“So I took it upon myself to become the unit’s expert on education benefits so that any other soldier that wants to pursue higher education isn’t held back by lack of information or access,” he said.

Cody further realized that several soldiers in the National Guard were struggling in their personal lives.

“We have had a number of soldiers in our company that suddenly found themselves unable to pay rent, needed food or school supplies for their children or just needed some guidance in life,” Cody said. “The National Guard has a lot of benefits of active duty, but one key difference is that we are primarily citizens living standard lives, and with that comes the stresses and upsets of daily life.”

Cody worked directly with many of these service members, helping them find jobs, places to stay, food and direction. This led to more opportunities to serve fellow service members—including helping distribute Thanksgiving baskets to soldiers in need and donning a red Santa suit during the holidays.

Not surprisingly, Cody joined the Veterans Club at STLCC-Meramec, participating in even more volunteer charity events to benefit soldiers and soldiers’ families in need.

“He’s a great guy,” said George Herrera, STLCC district manager of veteran programs. “He has a huge heart for taking care of other veterans and active-duty service members.”

Cody’s experiences elsewhere on campus have also been a positive.

“I have had a great experience with all of my professors,” he said. “A few of them really respected that I’m an older student trying to have the rest of my education mapped out, so they provided a lot of guidance and suggestions for completing my degrees and getting a position in education.”

Now more than halfway to retirement from the National Guard, and having most of his education paid for, Cody said those are just benefits on top of working with an excellent group of soldiers each month during training.

“Being in the National Guard, I’ve been privileged to meet a lot of different soldiers with different experiences,” he said.

As Veterans Day is celebrated, Cody points out that all service members are different in how they think about the holiday. “Some veterans enjoy being publicly thanked for the service,” he said. “While others prefer to go unnoticed.”

And while he may be disguised as Santa Claus, Cody’s good deeds certainly are noticed, particularly by the glowing faces of the youngsters to whom he spreads holiday cheer. And by the families to whom he delivers a much-needed Thanksgiving meal.

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