Freedom Awards Gala honors WWII veteran, nonprofit founders
The Grand Ballroom at the Utah Valley Convention Center was decked out in red, white and blue Thursday night to honor those who truly embody the values of the American Freedom Festival at Provo — God, family, freedom and country.
The Freedom Award is presented annually to those who have demonstrated a unique contribution to supporting and defending the Freedom Festival’s mission. This year, eight recipients were honored with the prestigious award at the Freedom Awards Gala, a black-tie affair complete with patriotic musical performances and heartfelt speeches.
Freedom Award recipient Kyle Fox is the founder of the Follow the Flag, a nonprofit organization that operates under the mission to honor, heal and inspire the American people by flying giant 400-pound American flags.
As the symbol of the sacred principle that we are “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” Follow the Flag utilizes the American flag to honor fallen soldiers and police officers, inspire patriotism during hometown parades and, in Utah County, hang a flag in Pleasant Grove’s Grove Creek Canyon.
Fox, who previously didn’t consider himself a particularly patriotic person, has grown more connected with the stars and stripes after seeing the way it can bring communities together.
“We do many flag tributes, big and small,” Fox said. “At every one of them it’s not necessarily the flag that’s important, but the miracles and experiences that surround them.”
Freedom Award Recipient Paul “Bud” Haedike is a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force as a togglier bombardier, in the nose of a B-17 bomber. While the average number of missions completed by a member of the Air Force during the war was between 10 to 12, Haedike, now 97, completed 23 combat missions and three humanitarian food drops.
“It’s very hard for me to believe that it was 77 years ago. That a young 19-year-old kid from Chicago was dropping bombs on towns such as Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Frankfurt, and so forth,” Haedike said. “Thanks to God I made it home in one piece.”
Although his time in the Air Force is long behind him, Haedike still keenly feels the loss of his comrades who died in battle. While many in the audience shed a tear, he performed the 452nd Bomb Group’s official song at the gala in their honor.
“I’ll look for you in skies of blue, and when your flight is through, I’ll be seeing you in my dreams, and I’ll be missing you,” Haedike sang.
For Freedom Award recipients Stacey and Cory Hofman, their journey to the gala began in Ghana in 2012. When they visited the country, they realized how many children lacked basic necessities, or were being used for slave labor.
After returning home to Idaho, newly determined to help, the couple founded Ghana Make a Difference, an organization that shelters children who have been rescued from trafficking, abandonment or otherwise harmful situations. The organization then, hopefully, either returns the children to their biological family or integrates them into a new Ghanaian family.
During the couple’s shared acceptance speech, Stacey Hofman noted that, although their intention has always been to make a difference in Ghana, she and her family were surprised by the impact that the people of Ghana have had on their lives.
“When we first decided to name our organization Ghana Make a Difference, it was because that was our intention, we were gonna make a difference in Ghana for children and families, and we were all in to do that,” she said. “Ghana makes a difference. It has made a difference in my life, and in the lives of many others.”
When it appeared that Freedom Award recipients Carlos and Vania Martin’s son would not be able to achieve his lifelong dream of embarking on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by himself in their home country of Brazil, the couple decided to go with him. While there, they encountered thousands of Venezuelan refugees searching for a better life, but who were unable to relocate to a part of the country with better job opportunities.
With Carlos Martin’s business connections, he and Vania were able to spearhead relocation efforts to move the refugees to a different part of Brazil. The Martins worked around the clock with various organizations and businesses to relocate close to 20,000 refugees, all of whom are now able to start fresh with new employment and accommodations in Brazil.
“The humanitarian mission that we served on the border of Brazil and Venezuala was not made only by our hands, it was made in the first place by the hand of the lord,” Carlos Martin said. “There were refugees who needed food, clothing, they needed medical assistance… I just remember looking up to heaven and saying ‘Lord, how are we going to be able to fulfill this mission?’ And that sweet sweet voice came to our heart, ‘calm down calm down, this is not your work, this is mine.”
Freedom Award recipients Charles and Esther Mully founded Mully Children’s Family, a Christian nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing young children, as well as mothers and their babies.
As a child from an abusive home, Charles Mully knows the plight of many of the kids at Mully Children’s Family. After being abandoned at age 6, Charles Mully lived on the streets for years before he was taken in by another family and put to work in the fields. As an adult, he worked tirelessly to become successful but eventually felt inspired to quit his job and sell everything in order to provide children on the streets with food, work, education and love.
The Mullys could not attend the Freedom Awards Gala due to travel restrictions, so Charles Mully gave an acceptance speech on their behalf virtually from his and Esther’s home in Kenya.
“I feel so blessed and feel so honored for you honoring me and my wife Esther for the work that we have been doing,” he said in a video message. “I want to thank also the Americans… America is a great nation, it is because of a good foundation that was set by its forefathers… America has helped so many in the world.”