Memorial Day sets the stage for a variety of scenes and emotions. Designed to remember those who have died while in our nation’s service, the day’s events can be as diverse as the people in this great county.
The last Monday in May is often marked not only with plans for family get-togethers, picnics, camping or vacations, but also with a conviction to express gratitude for those who have died to protect our country, way of life and freedom. At the center of these solemn events are the burial sites housing the honored dead.
To prepare for Memorial Day, local cemeteries and memorials are spiffed up, flags are positioned at the graves of veterans, speeches are written, parades are organized and ceremonies are planned.
“There are almost 8,000 gravestones in Delhi’s Woodland Cemetery needing to be mowed and trimmed around,” said Janet Schwengber, president of the Woodland Cemetery Association. “The board is in charge of making sure the grounds are groomed and our contractor works diligently to have the grounds looking nice for Memorial Day.”
To prepare for the big day, Woodland Cemetery often hosts a spring cleanup day before Memorial Day weekend.
“The gravesite owners are responsible for the care of their own site,” Schwengber added. “Wintertime can wreak havoc with the decorations, so a spring cleanup reminds people to come and remove the old decorations, and if they desire, add new.”
The cemetery will host one of the weekend’s numerous Memorial Day ceremonies, with the help of some local organizations.
“The American Legion Post No. 190 supplies American flags for members of the Boy Scout Troop No. 33, who in turn place the flags appropriately in the Woodland Cemetery,” Post Commander Walter Roye explained.
The Legion Post will also host Memorial Day ceremonies in Bovina and Meridale. Preparations for the big day have been underway for months.
“I started working on my speech and the order of the services at the beginning of April,” Roye noted.
Just as the Legion’s contributions are supported by donations and fundraisers, Woodland Cemetery relies on the support of the community.
“Repairs are expensive,” Schwengber explained with a matter-a-fact grin. “Cemetery lots sold for $8 back in the day, and that $8 did not stretch too far into the future.”
Price of lots is not the only thing that has changed over the years. While caring for the gravesites of departed loved ones used to be a common custom, many local cemeteries have graves today that are ignored or neglected.
“We normally receive calls after Memorial Day,” said Brian Sickler, owner and manager of Sickler Memorials and Grave Cleaning in Franklin. “Family members go to the cemetery on Memorial Day and are surprised to find the stone badly needs cleaning.”
To restore gravestones to their proper status, a mild cleaning solution is applied to remove lichen and dirt. “We let the solution soak on the headstone for a brief time then we pressure-wash it off,” Sickler said. “Sometimes a brush is used, but the end result is a clean monument.”
Groundskeeper David Belknap, an independent contractor, is busy the week before Memorial Day.
“It takes 50 hours to mow and trim the 27-acre Ouleout Cemetery” in Franklin, Belknap explained, where he trims carefully around thousands of gravestones.
Attention to detail is key in his line of work.
“I don’t use chemical weed killers because it creates brown spots,” explained Belknap. “While trimming around the pond, I make sure the grass clippings don’t get in the water.”
For the Memorial Day celebration in Franklin, all the stops will be pulled out. Wreaths have been ordered, which will be laid at Ouleout and at the Village Memorial Park. Time will be set aside to observe all who died in service, along with special recognition of Franklin’s own Nicholas K. Uzenski, graduate of Franklin Central School, who joined the Marine Corps and was killed on Jan. 11, 2010.
“Mr. Uzenski was a man of exceptional character,” said Franklin’s Mayor John Campbell. Cpl. Uzenski was born Dec. 30, 1988.
Previous arrangements have been made to clear and block off Franklin’s Main Street for the parade. The colorful and lively march will proceed down the street into the cemetery and to the top of a hill. This peak is the final setting for a service that includes a flag rising, wreath lying, recitation of the Gettysburg Address, the 21-gun salute, and a solo of the National Anthem.
Parade chairman Ken Taylor has been working for months to coordinate the day’s events.
“At the beginning of the year, we arranged for Maj. Brian Cole, a past Franklin resident, to be the main speaker,” Taylor said. “Mr. Cole is the site commander at Camp Pendleton in California and will be traveling here to speak.”
Taylor, who has been in charge of Franklin’s parade for 18 years, said that while organizations such as the Legion, the Scouts and the local fire department are key in organizing the day’s events, the celebrations are for everyone to enjoy.
“Friends, families, everyone,” Taylor said, “is welcome to come back to the Legion building for barbecue chicken. It’s a community affair.”