WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — It started with an invitation to honor a school volunteer at Hanes Magnet School during lunch on Wednesday.

Burnadette Pegeuese, who regularly volunteers at the school, would be publicly honored with her granddaughter, Madison, who is in the seventh grade, standing by her side.

But then Principal Robin Willard asked them both to turn toward the entrance. It was then that they, along with a crowd of teachers and students, realized what this was all about.

Walking through the doors with a bouquet of flowers in each arm was Maj. Dianna Pegeuese, Burnadette’s daughter and Madison’s mother, who had been deployed to Kuwait. The three embraced as the cafeteria applauded.

“Welcome home, Maj. Pegeuese,” Willard said on the microphone.

This was Dianna Pegeuese’s longest deployment in her 16 years for the Army, she said. She, along with family friend Cassandra Brunson, first came up with the idea for the surprise and then involved Willard and a handful of others.

“I’m happy, I’m surprised, I just have a whirlwind of emotions going through me right now, and I’m just glad to be back home — finally, after just a long time of being away from home,” she said.

Madison had a similar reaction to the surprise — full of emotions at the sight of her mother.

“I didn’t really have any thoughts. It was just a lot of emotions going on,” she said.

When planning out the surprise, the idea was to get Burnadette to the school under some sort of pretense. She said Willard had called her in Wednesday morning and then asked if she could come down to the cafeteria, which she thought meant she wanted her to help out there in some way.

And staging it as a moment to honor Burnadette for her volunteer work was not difficult. Both Willard and Brunson said she goes above and beyond for Hanes.

“I was just so happy that it worked out for Mrs. Pegeuese because she’s given back so much to me here at the school that to be able to give her something as amazing as this after I knew that she had missed her daughter so much,” Willard said. “We talked about her every time Mrs. Pegeuese came in. We always talked about Dianna. So it was nice to be able to give something back for Mrs. Pegeuese this time.”

Brunson said they have known the Pegeuese family for some time now, and Madison and her daughters have become incredibly close.

Knowing her friend was coming home soon and wanting it to be a surprise for the family, Brunson decided she would try and replicate military family member reunions like she had seen on the news before.

What came to fruition was surreal, Brunson said.

“It was definitely heartwarming, it was just an overwhelming of emotional experience and it was all types of emotions that went on — nothing that a television can do,” she said. “But I’m hoping that when others see the story, when they see the expressions on their faces and others and the cheering … that they’ll get some feeling, get touched in some way.”

She added that she hopes anyone who has the opportunity to provide a helping hand to a family member of a military family will do so.

“If I could have fainted I would have,” Burnadette said after she turned around and saw her daughter walking toward her.

And the timing could not have been better, as Burnadette said her birthday is coming up on Tuesday.

“This is the best birthday surprise that I’ve ever had,” she said.

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mbragg@wsjournal.com, 336-727-7278, @braggmichaelc

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