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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Veterans gravestone project kicks off Saturday

Hundreds of military veterans, some of them dating back to the Revolutionary War, are buried in cemeteries scattered across Potter County beneath grave markers that are illegible and scarred by inattention.
That’s going to change, thanks to what appears to be a first-in-the-nation county operated project to make amends. The Potter County Veterans Gravestone Restoration Project will launch at 9 am Saturday, May 13, at Coudersport’s Eulalia Cemetery with a veterans’ memorial ceremony, open to the public. Due to forecasts for rain and cooler temperatures, the ceremony will be held in chapel area and limited to about 20 minutes.

Keynote speaker will be Robert Leete, former U.S. Navy officer and veteran of the Persian Gulf War.

Rev. Janis Yskamp will deliver the invocation and benediction. Potter County Honor Guard members will present the colors and accord military honors as departed veterans are recalled. “Taps” will be performed by Arthur Metzger.

After the ceremony, volunteers will fan out across the cemetery and begin scrubbing veterans’ grave markers under the supervision of Eulalia Cemetery caretakers.

This pilot program at Eulalia Cemetery will be followed by a concerted outreach by the county committee to other cemetery managers across Potter County to expand the restoration work. Representatives from almost dozen other cemeteries are already onboard. The Austin, Northern Potter and Oswayo Valley school districts are also planning to get their students involved.

It all came about as the result of a chance encounter that Commissioner Paul Heimel had with a Floridian whose one-man mission to restore veterans’ grave markers earned him the moniker, “the good cemeterian.”

Andrew Lumish of Tampa has since been featured in numerous magazines and national television and radio news broadcasts, spreading awareness of the travesty he sees in so many grave markers being neglected.

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.

“I’ve received a lot of requests for help, but Potter County is the first to adopt this as a countywide project,” Lumish said. “My hat’s off to the local organizers. I believe you will soon see county leaders from across America using your work as an example. That’s what it’s all about – bringing the departed veterans from every state the recognition they deserve.”
Most recently, the Potter County Veterans Service Committee has been interviewed by a National Public Radio reporter, who is producing a program about the local project.

A separate component of the plan is continued development of a Facebook social media site, Military Veterans of Potter County, to share details on individual veterans, pointers for grave marker cleaning, and other information.

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 to receive regular project updates by email are asked to call 814-274-8290, extension 207.

Anyone who would like to volunteer to join the Eulalia Cemetery work session immediately after the 9 am ceremony on Saturday should contact Steve Erway at steven.erway@northwest.com.


Veterans Service Committee Dawn Wooster joined in a demonstration project at the Lymansville Cemetery.

Matt Grossman (left) and Tom Taylor from the Sons of the American Legion located and restored the grave site of Major Isaac Lyman, a prominent Potter County pioneer and Revolutionary War veteran.

Andrew Lumish, the "good cemeterian" from Florida, attacks his mission with a passion.

Veterans Service Committee members, from left, Paul Heimel, Dawn Wooster and Bill Simpson give instructions for the demonstration project at Lymansville Cemetery.

An anonymous volunteer in Ohio was also inspired by the example of Andrew Lumish and set out to clean and restore veterans' grave markers.

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