Wreaths Across America's Trucking Tributes Presents Tyson Foods Chaplain Karen Diefendorf
The Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach is not possible without the transportation industry. Veterans’ wreaths move by planes, trains, and livestock trailers, but trucks and their professional drivers transport the lion’s share of America’s respect. Wreaths Across America highlights their steadfast commitment in the “Trucking Tributes” feature online and on Wreaths Across America Radio. Many of these drivers are veterans and say the truckload of fresh, balsam-fir wreaths is the most precious cargo they transport in their careers.
Professional drivers and trucking companies give so much to the nation. In December, arguably the busiest time of the year for the transportation sector, the Wreaths Across America mission brings them together in an effort of unparalleled unity. That unity, combined with a “can-do” work ethic, makes it possible for Americans to honor millions of veterans laid to rest here at home and overseas. With over 2,500 participating locations and Arlington National Cemetery, transportation logistics are immense.
Wreaths Across America is often referred to as a family. A vast family made up of volunteers and supporters from every walk of life in every state and abroad. As a family, we endure the hardships together and celebrate life's victories. One celebration Trucking Tributes calls attention to is the retirement of the Director of Chaplain Services for Tyson Foods, Karen Diefendorf. Karen started her career in the chaplaincy as a youth pastor, but along the way felt God was calling her to serve in the military. "I spent twenty-four years on active duty as an Army Chaplain," Karen shared. "In the Army, you're assigned to a particular unit. You get to do what your soldiers do, and you have more day-to-day contact with them. My first unit was a M.A.S.H." When asked why she chose the Army, Karen explained that at the time, other branches had less opportunity because of quotas based on denomination. She was also married with two children, and her husband didn't feel confident as a sole parent while she would be out to sea for an extended period.
Following her military service, Karen went on to hospice chaplaincy work, and that's when she was approached by one of her brothers in service, Mike Tarvin, who was Director of Chaplain Services at Tyson Foods. "Mike asked me to consider a position at a Tyson prepared foods plant in Columbia, South Carolina, and it was a wonderful introduction to Tyson," Karen explained. "I was there for a couple of years when Mike decided he was going to move on and encouraged me to throw my hat in the ring for his position. Tyson blessed me with calling me to this ministry, and I have served four years as director." Karen officially retires from Tyson on April 30, 2021.
Tyson Foods is a long-time supporter of the Wreaths Across America mission and has expanded its involvement every year since 2012. First, it was two trucks loaded with veterans' wreaths. Then came their support with developing the driver's check-in lounge feeding hundreds of drivers, core volunteers, Gold Star families, and veterans. Tyson also has a sponsorship group called Transportation Warriors that supports the Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas. Now, it's over twenty-five truckloads of veterans' wreaths Tyson hauls for the mission. In 2019, Tyson Foods was honored as the fifth recipient of the James Prout/Spirit of Giving Award. Over the years of their steadfast commitment, Tyson employees have become close members of the Wreaths Across America family. Word-of-mouth by far remains the most potent form of advertising for Wreaths Across America's mission to remember, honor, and teach. It's how Karen Diefendorf learned of the organization a few years ago. "It was through Tyson's cook team members and drivers, Jimmy Shaw and Kenney Elbe, that I heard about Wreaths Across America." However, she didn't understand the depth of their enthusiasm until she visited Maine in person a few years ago. Then she was hooked. "In trying to describe a beautiful sight, we often use words like inspiring and breath-taking, and it was. To see the little chapel nestled among the trees in the snow, it was idyllic, but it wasn't just the setting. There were hundreds of trucks coming in to load up wreaths in the four or five days I was there. It was amazing to see the 'dance', that orchestrated movement that you all do to get those trucks loaded and on the road to their destination. To have them staged the night of the banquet, then to see them roll out in the morning in this parade of honor. It was so humbling to me as a veteran to know that here's this private, non-profit organization that is committed to when I'm lying in that grave, that someone is going to honor the fact that I existed and that I served my country."
Here's the thing, though. Karen may be retiring from Tyson Foods at the end of April, but we have it on good authority her service to God, and her country will continue to make a meaningful impact on others in her future endeavors.
You can hear Karen's full interview on Trucking Tributes, heard exclusively every Tuesday on Wreaths Radio at 11:00 AM and again at 4:00 PM EST.
Tune in to The Dave Nemo Show to catch Karen on "Remember, Honor, Teach" with Jimmy Mac and Michael Hale, Friday, April 23 at 10am ET.