11-year-old Payge Maddix of Mason thought she was going to pick up her dad, Army Staff Sgt. James Maddix, in Grand Rapids on Saturday. Instead, he surprised her at her school, White Pine Academy in Leslie, a day early.
The idea to surprise Payge originally came when her teacher, Amy Dunlap, heard her dad was coming home.
"One day, Payge comes up to me at recess and says 'dad's going to be home next week'," said Dunlap. "I e-mailed her mom and said 'I hear he's going to be home next week, can we plan a surprise?'."
Payge's mom, Michelle, agreed with the idea. She soon found out her husband would be home on Friday, but told her kids he would be home Saturday. Dunlap quickly came up with an idea.
"We thought it would be a great idea to say 'you're home and we're excited your back'," said Dunlap. "Also we wanted to say welcome to White Pine."
Since Payge's dad left before she enrolled at White Pine, he had never been there. Dunlap had her students create 'welcome home' posters and said they would be up for when Payge's dad would visit the school in the future.
As they posed for a picture, Payge and her classmates had no idea her dad was already there, but when she finally did see him, the tears on her face said it all.
"I'm so excited, I don't think this is actually happening," said Payge Maddix. "It's just a great dream."
James Maddix has had three tours of duty, but this time, he says he is staying home for good.