December 20, 2012 12:00AM
As a retired 30-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Lynden Lawson is already a hero in many ways. However, as he was once told, there are many more ways to be heroic.
“I remember being told once that you can be a hero on the battlefield, or you can be a hero to your community at home,” Lawson said.
For the past three years, he has served in the latter role with open arms and a big smile. Lawson, who graduated Friday from PSU with a master’s in human resources and development, has served since 2010 as the coordinator of the local Toys for Tots program. A function of the U.S. Marine Reserves, Toys for Tots provides free toys for children during the holiday season.
“Three years ago, Gary Gugala of the Salvation Army told me that this area hasn’t had a Toys for Tots program for quite some time,” Lawson said. “I wanted to help bring joy to young kids at Christmas, so I volunteered to coordinate the local program.”
All of the toys collected through Toys for Tots are donated to the Salvation Army/Wesley House Toy and Food Distribution event, which took place Dec. 17 and 18 at PSU’s Student Recreation Center/National Guard Armory. Lawson serves as a volunteer at the event.
“It’s a kind of personal gratification for me,” Lawson said. “I want to volunteer to help needy families so that kids can have a good Christmas. The distribution event is such a wonderful thing for our community. I’m a very lucky person to get to be a part of it in a small way.”
During the program’s first year, more than 800 toys were collected. The next year, more than 1,300 toys were collected and another 500 were purchased with money donated to the program. This year, total toy donations are near the 1,300 mark.
Lawson is married to Kris Lawson, an assistant professor in the PSU history department who helps Lynden select a lot of the toys to buy with the donated cash.
“She’s a big help when it comes to going out shopping for toys,” Lawson said. “She has a keen knack for what young kids would want for Christmas.”
Along with the joy that comes with giving back to the community, Lawson said being a part of Toys for Tots also can feel like a travel back through time.
“Our kids are grown up,” he said. “I have a son in the Marines and a daughter in the Air Force. Getting out to buy toys for the children reminds us of what it was like to have young kids. That’s a neat feeling.”
While he is the coordinator of the local Toys for Toys program, Lawson said all of the credit should be given to the generous residents who donate to the cause.
“I just collect the toys,” he said. “My job’s easy. The community itself is making this happen. This is the community coming through for itself to meet the needs of the children.”
Lawson, who now holds two master’s degrees – the first was in management from the University of Phoenix – is the president of the Sunflower Kiwanis and Commandant of the Joplin Marine Corps League.