Family of late Mokena soldier: Support has been ‘unbelievable’
BY FRANK VAISVILAS Correspondent July 4, 2014 3:44PM
American flags line the outside of the Culver's restaurant in Frankfort on Wednesday, when a fundraiser was held to benefit the family of late Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen. | Frank Vaisvilas/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 6, 2014 2:12AM
Support for the family of Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen since the Mokena soldier’s death in Afghanistan last month has been “unbelievable” and comforting, friends and family said Wednesday at a fundraiser at the Culver’s restaurant in Frankfort.
Toppen, 19, was one of five American soldiers killed June 9 by friendly fire while on a mission in Afghanistan. To benefit his family, 15 percent of the sales at Culver’s at the “Night of Giving” event were to be donated to the family.
Restaurant owner Jack Rush said the fundraiser he helped organize was his way of showing how much the community supports the Toppen family.
Several of Aaron’s friends and family members attended, including Aaron’s mother, Pam Toppen.
She said her pastor said during Sunday service that Aaron’s sacrifice has brought communities together like “Mayberry”. Thousands of people turned out late last month for a procession that brought his body from Midway Airport to Mokena, and then for his wake and funeral.
“If it wasn’t for faith, friends and family, it would have been even more difficult,” Pam Toppen said.
Pam described Aaron as a quiet and funny person who wanted to join the Army since he was a small child. She said he loved to be outdoors and go mudding with his truck.
Brittany Oskielunas, a friend of the family, fought back tears, saying it is still hard to talk about what happened, but she appreciates the support from the community.
“That’s one thing that’s come out of this is the support from not only Mokena, but from many other communities,” she said.
Aaron’s cousin, Meghan Sallese, said the support from the community has been amazing.
“The patriotism that everyone has shown has been unbelievable,” Sallese said.
Rush said people were donating before the fundraiser even began, adding to donation total.
“We’re hoping to be able to donate $2,000,” Rush said.
He got the idea for the fundraiser after watching news coverage about Toppen. He called restaurant manager Dawn Murray and she felt the same way.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of the community,” Rush said. “We always try to give back whenever we can. But for something like this, we just had to do something.”