Kyle Miller thought he was at a reception Dec. 6 to thank an Ashland University alumna for her financial support of veterans.
He didn't realize that Debbie Liebert Karl, a university trustee who lives in Powell, was about to give him and every other veteran student -- all 186 of them -- a $200 gift card, just as she did last year.
Miller, an Air Force veteran living in the northeastern Ohio city of Ashland and working toward his doctorate in education, said the gift means he and his wife will have extra money available to visit his family in Arkansas for Christmas.
"I actually showed up because I wanted to thank her," Miller said. "It was almost like a sign from God. So if it's a sign from God, that makes them angels."
Karl found out last year that student veterans do not receive their normal stipend through the military when they are not on campus for breaks. She said she was concerned they might not have enough money for Christmas, because the campus is closed from Dec. 21 to Jan. 6.
So she bought each student veteran a $200 Amazon gift card last year, and a $200 Target gift card this year.
She had more time to plan this year, so she held a reception at Uniontown Brewing Co. in downtown Ashland to hand out the gifts and personally thank the veterans.
Last year, "it was a spur-of-the-moment thing," Karl said. "It was like a light bulb went off, and I thought I needed to do something for the veterans."
She said it's hard not to get paid for a few weeks, especially around the holidays when trying to buy Christmas presents for loved ones.
Karl has a special place in her heart for students who are also veterans, because her father, Jack W. Liebert, served in the Navy during World War II. In 2017, she donated $1 million to establish the Military Veterans Resource Center on campus, making the gift in memory of her father.
The university just started demolition to build the facility and is pushing for its dedication in early May.
Karl, a 1972 Ashland College graduate with a degree in education, taught at Pioneer Career and Technology Center in Shelby from 1972 to 1983. In the past, she has made other large donations to the university, including $1 million for scholarships and $250,000 for the renovation of the Deborah Liebert Karl Tennis Complex.
Adam Darlak, who's originally from Millersburg, is a Navy veteran studying physics and chemistry. He said he'll most likely use the money to buy Christmas presents for his children, ages 5 and 7.
"She gave us that last year to Amazon, and I was flabbergasted," Darlak said, "and if she's doing it again, that's astounding. So we definitely don't deserve it, but it's very appreciated."
Karl said she received a large card from the students last year thanking her, plus other personal thank-you letters.
"That meant a lot to me," she said. "I don't think we could ever do enough" for veterans.
Karl said she will make such donations every year as long as she's able.