Controlled chaos dominated lunchtime at the Tri-County YMCA preschool Friday afternoon. Students bounced in and out of chairs, laughing, munching on cheese cubes and canned fruit. But one little girl in a blue shirt and pink tennis shoes sat patiently at the table, ready to eat. Kennidy Mikles kicked her legs under the seat and made goofy faces at the preschooler across from her: typical for a four-year-old.
But this wasn't a typical day for Kennidy. As she waited for lunch, the door opened and a man dressed in military fatigues entered the room, an unfamiliar figure in a room filled mostly with people under four feet tall.
"Daddy!" Kennidy yelled as she abandoned her chair and ran towards the door. This was the first time she had seen her father, Jacob Mikles of Osage Beach, in person in more than a year.
Kennidy leapt off the floor and into her father's arm, squeezing his neck tight, making up for a year's worth of missed hugs.
"Is it your birthday?" a preschooler in the captivated class asked.
"No, it's my dad," she said through a big smile — a smile that didn't fade throughout her dad's short visit to the class.
Mikles, who was deployed to Kuwait with the Missouri National Guard's 935th Aviation Support Battalion, returned to the U.S. April 23 and back to Springfield Thursday, where Gov. Jay Nixon spoke to the group at a welcome home ceremony.
Mikles and his wife Ashley kept Mikles' return home a secret and planned surprise reunions with Kennidy and son Kaden Harris at school Friday. Ashley contacted Gardith Fike, Tri-County YMCA Preschool Director to help plan the surprise.
The preschool created a sign reading "Thank you and welcome home," and covered it with Kennidy's hand prints.
"That's why it's only your hand prints, Kennidy," Fike said as the reunited family paused for a few photos in front of the sign.
Preschool employees said Kennidy didn't talk much about her father's deployment, but knew that Mikles was away with the military.
All smiles, Ashley captured the moment on her iPhone before heading out for some long overdue family time.