Hundreds of veterans' grave markers scattered across Potter County have become difficult, if not impossible, to read. The Potter County Veterans Service Committee has embarked on an ambitious plan to rectify the situation.
Members Bill Simpson, Paul Heimel and Dawn Wooster are recruiting volunteers to “adopt” these headstones and be responsible for their maintenance so that these veterans are never forgotten.
A kickoff event is scheduled for 9 am Saturday, May 13, at the Eulalia Cemetery on Rt. 6 west in Coudersport. After a brief veterans memorial ceremony, volunteers will fan out across the cemetery to clean the gravestones of military veterans.
More details on the public ceremony will be announced. Meanwhile, those interested in joining the work bee on May 3 or otherwise supporting the project at the Eulalia Cemetery should contact cemetery board president Steve Erway (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is just the start of a countywide project that will continue for many years, according to Simpson. Several cemetery managers, community leaders and other volunteers have already signed up. At the Eulalia Cemetery, long-time secretary/treasurer Donna Lehman has been laboriously compiling a list of all veterans buried there and the location of their graves.
“We chose the Eulalia Cemetery for our pilot project because of the cemetery board’s willingness to become engaged and partner with us to make it a success,” Simpson explained. “It’s our hope that cemetery managers, veterans service organizations, local historians, school and youth organizations, and family members of our departed veterans will answer this local call to duty.”
The county committee took on the assignment after Heimel, a member of the national Veterans and Military Service Committee, reached out to a nationally known Floridian known as the “good cemeterian.”
Andrew Lumish has been quietly going about his one-man public service mission of cleaning veterans’ grave markers for several years. Over the past year, he has been featured in Reader’s Digest and several national television newscasts.
Impressed with the local “cemeterian” proposal, he met with the Potter County committee in February and the local project was off and running with Lumish agreeing to continue in an advisory role.
A separate component of the plan is development of a website and database pinpointing the location of each veteran's grave and listing biographical information on military veterans buried in Potter County.
“This is going to become a very important part of our work, and we are going to need plenty of help,” Simpson explained. “Our goal will be to compile photographs and biographical information on Potter County’s veterans to be publicly posted with each grave location. Much like the grave marker restoration, this will be a major task and require ongoing maintenance for many years to come, but we have to start somewhere.”
The committee has acquired a limited number of grave restoration kits, including an environmentally safe cleaning solution identical to the product used in national military cemeteries. Start-up expenses have been covered through donations to a veterans service fund administered by the county commissioners.
Detailed instructions will be provided to cemetery caretakers and volunteers to assure that markers are not damaged. With an eye toward sustaining the program, volunteers will be encouraged to sign up for “adopting” one or more grave markers and passing along that responsibility to future generations.
The committee is compiling a list of potential volunteers and others interested in being regularly updated on the project. Those seeking to be included on the list are asked to call or email Dawn Wooster at 814-274-8290, extension 207, or email@example.com.
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