By Jeff Murphy, September 21, 2023
University of Central Missouri student Sgt. Samuel "Sam" Hayden and Rick Smetana, director of UCM Lee's Summit, stand below a sign that honors Hayden as a Lee's Summit "Hometown Hero."
WARRENSBURG, MO – Motorists and pedestrians who journey to downtown Lee’s Summit, Missouri, in September may notice a banner featuring a University of Central Missouri student who is being recognized as a “Hometown Hero.”
The banner featuring Sgt. Samuel “Sam” Hayden, a junior elementary education major and history minor at UCM, is made possible by a program sponsored by the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce. It gives the community’s businesses the opportunity to honor an employee or family member by featuring them on a banner which hangs in the city’s downtown area. The banner is expected to be seen by about 100,000 visitors who attend Lee’s Summit’s annual Oktoberfest on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22-23.
Rick Smetana, director of UCM Lee’s Summit, and Courtney Swoboda, director of Military and Veteran Services, selected Hayden to be featured on the “Hometown Heroes” banner. It continues recognition he received from the university’s Military and Veterans Success Center, which honored Sgt. Hayden during UCM's 2023 Military Appreciation Day on Sept. 9. This event coincided with the Get the Red Out street fair, a celebration that brought thousands of university and Warrensburg community members together to share their UCM spirit on the same day the UCM Mules football team played its first home game of the season.
Sgt. Hayden was recognized at halftime for his service to this nation and to his community. He is currently enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard and has worked at the Military and Veterans Success Center for the past year as a Veterans Administration Work Study participant. Prior to attending UCM, he spent 8.5 years on active duty stationed at Fort Liberty (Bragg), North Carolina, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He deployed once to Al Dhafra Air Base with the 1-7 Air Defense Artillery Battalion.
“We thought this would be a great way to continue to recognize his service and great work,” Swoboda said in talking about Sgt. Hayden being part of the “Hometown Hero” recognition program. She added that Hayden has “gone above and beyond to ensure his fellow soldiers know what benefits they have and how to use them to go to college.”
UCM Lee’s Summit is located at the Missouri Innovation Campus and serves students throughout the metropolitan area. A number of students at both the Lee’s Summit and Warrensburg, Missouri educational facilities are affiliated with the military.
Smetana noted that one of the other benefits of the “Hometown Hero” program is that a portion of the proceeds go toward welcome bags for Whiteman Air Force Base airmen who are new to the Lee’s Summit community. The university has had a strong cooperative relationship with Whiteman AFB for many years, serving active duty military personnel and their families and veterans who have served at the base. The banner featuring Sgt. Hayden also mentions UCM as his sponsor.