With Memorial Day approaching, extra traffic passes through area cemeteries. During moments spent there, it is important to acknowledge the effort that is put into these sanctuaries of peace and comfort.
It has been said that a cemetery is a place where lives are commemorated, deaths are recorded and families are reunited. Pride and remembrance are cast in stone to pay warm tribute to the life of a loved one.
The cemetery is a homeland for memorials that are a sustaining source of comfort to the living. It is a history of people, a perpetual record of yesterday. A cemetery exists because life is worth loving and remembering. A cemetery also exists because of the caring hands of those who tend to it.
“The cemetery is a history book of Amery and the surrounding communities. There is so much information out there. The look of the cemetery is important, but what the area truly contains is something else,” said Amery Cemetery Association President Jim Leadholm.
Preparation for Memorial Day starts months before the day itself. The Amery Cemetery Association, members of the Amery American Legion, Amery V.F.W. and Auxiliary, the city’s Public Works Department, and countless volunteers keep the cemetery looking in tip top shape, not only for Memorial Day, but every other day of the year too.
Both Leadholm and volunteer Chuck Williamson have a history with the cemetery. Their fathers were long time board members for the cemetery. It seems to be a theme with the current board, as the association’s Secretary, Karen Christopherson’s father Jack Larsen was also a cemetery board member.
“The three of us have memories of working at the cemetery. When I remember back about placing the urns out, we as kids of board members were probably enticed with candy bars to drag those pots around to their spots,” said Leadholm. Williamson replied, “No. I was just told to do it.” Leadholm added, “We have served on the cemetery board a long time, but we have actually worked much, much longer.”
The importance of giving back to the community has trickled down into further generations as now their children and grandchildren lend a helping hand at the cemetery.
In mid February, urns are brought to Dragonfly Gardens, where the flower planting process begins. Depending on the length of winter, lawn care starts as early as April. All of the sticks and winter debris that blew into the cemetery during the blustery months must be picked up. There are 180 trees to be trimmed, holes to be filled and grass seed to be planted. After the heavy clean up lawn mowing and weed whipping can start around 3000 headstones.
Leadholm said for many years Danny Sigsworth cared for the cemetery as if it were his own lawn. “He wanted it pristine for Memorial Day and would start six weeks before the holiday.” Williamson shared that Sigsworth would even stop into the cemetery on weekends and pull any dandelions that had sprouted up.
“We have been blessed with phenomenal caretakers for a number of years. Before Danny it was Rick Rehm, Roger Knutson and Gordy Madsen. Going way way back it was Alfred Hanson and Paul Maxon,” said Williamson.
They say many hands make light work. A variety of volunteers throughout the years have assisted in making the 12 sections of the cemetery a place that the City of Amery can be proud of. “I remember one time as a kid, the cemetery only had one riding lawn mower, an old Jacobsen that had broken down 10 days before Memorial Day. It was not an easy fix and they didn’t want to borrow one because of the abuse it would take mowing the cemetery. My boy scout troop mowed that entire place with push mowers and we hand clipped grass around every monument, there was no such thing as a weed whip back then,” said Williamson.
It takes four hours to water plants at the cemetery. Families that have paid a perpetual flower fee can be assured that plants honoring their loved ones will be sprayed for bugs and watered throughout the summer. A 40-gallon tank is pulled behind a lawn tractor and refilled 10 times in order to care for the thirsty plants.
Leadholm shared that Amery Schools have been a great support in helping with things at the cemetery. Steve Bielmeier’s Weight Lifting class will assist with moving 458 urns from Dragonfly to the cemetery a few days before Memorial Day. “The kids really enjoy helping. Last year when we were done putting out flower pots, five kids came up and said, ‘Thank You for letting me help with this.’ I think that part of it was they were able to put flowers on a grave of someone meaningful to them. The younger generation gets misinterpreted about a lot of things. They really do get some of these important things,” said Williamson.
The American Legion and V.F.W. make sure that all flags are put in place; the Amery Woman’s Club and Worn Again have donated money for flowers and assist with planting. Betty Tomasek deadheaded flowers for years, as has Gretchen Bader with the help of her family. If these and other kind volunteers did not take on this task, the flowers would quit blooming throughout the summer. The Cemetery Association is thankful for neighbors that they know have helped keep the cemetery in beautiful condition and appreciate the countless others who lend their efforts.
“The beauty of this is that all of the people involved with Memorial Day have worked so well together for such a long time. I give Chuck a lot of credit, he knows who does what, when and where. Between him, the American Legion and V.F.W., schools and kind volunteers, everything runs very smoothly,” said Leadholm.