TREMONT, Ill. (WMBD) — As a nearby church bell struck noon, hundreds of Tremont Grade School students lined the street waving flags as a final tribute to a local World War II veteran.

Students braved the cold on Thursday to honor Gene Neeley, 97, a World War II veteran and active Tremont community member, as the funeral procession went past the school.

“They all said they are going to miss him today. And for kids in second, third, and fourth grade to say that, you know he had to be a special person,” said Tremont Village President Todd Bong.

Neeley got to know many of the students while participating in Fist Bump Thursdays at Tremont Grade School.

“A guy like that was a great asset to the community. Always positive, he was here on Thursday mornings when the veterans meet the kids when they come to school,” said Bong.

Neeley was also heavily involved with recruiting for the Greater Peoria Honor Flight to bring veterans to Washington D.C.

“He was in his 80s when he did that and he’s made every veteran in Central Illinois feel special,” said Bong.

Bong said seeing the students pay their respects to Neeley showed he made a big impact in the community.

“It just shows you what the community thought of Gene and what he did for the community. Not just for Tremont but all of Central Illinois…He will be missed in this community. Very few people, far and few in between are as special as he is,” he said.

Neeley died on Nov. 19, just eight days shy of his 98th birthday.