Hope of America is a patriotic celebration which always includes honoring the military, those who served and those currently serving.
But for the Petersen family, the last night of Hope of America not only allowed them to honor Sgt. Lonnie Petersen through song — it reunited them with Petersen, who has been deployed with the Army for the last 11 months.
At the beginning of the year, Petersen knew he would be home sometime in the spring, right around the annual Hope of America celebration. So he contacted his fifth-grade daughter’s school to see if it would be possible to surprise her, and the rest of his family, at the event.
That far in advance, however, it was unclear if Petersen would be home in time for his daughter’s performance.
“We just kept in contact,” Petersen said. “We didn’t know if it would happen.”
Sherry Anderson, the Hope of America chairperson, was Petersen’s main point of contact. She explained that first, they thought Petersen would be home a few days early and just have to hide out from his family. With his wife’s blessing, of course.
“I told him he wasn’t allowed to surprise me,” his wife, Ashley, said.
On Monday, Petersen texted Anderson to tell her he was in the United States. Everything seemed to be going according to plan — until Thursday morning, when Petersen sent Anderson another text and said his military-issued plane ticket was for Friday, a day too late.
“I just felt sick,” Anderson said.
She immediately had the Hope of America team jump on the problem, making calls until they were able to procure a ticket for Thursday evening. Petersen was set to arrive in Salt Lake City around 6:30 p.m., an hour before the event started in Provo.
Shortly after 8 p.m., Anderson called the Petersen family down to the floor of the Marriott Center and told them they were going to video conference with Petersen — then the picture froze.
Anderson put on a big show about it not working, only for cameras to go to a live feed of Petersen coming down the stairs towards his family.
Immediately, Petersen’s children embraced him. They couldn’t believe their eyes.
It was a long day for Petersen — but worth it in the end to see his whole family, including his elderly mother.
He said he barely noticed the thousands of people in attendance, focusing only on his family.
“It feels good to be home,” he said.