After more than a year of planning and with gratitude toward the Lansford Borough Council, the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery Association of Summit Hill unveiled and dedicated a monument to the members of the Eli T. Conner Post #177 of the GAR and all of the Panther Valley area veterans of the Civil War.
The monument was constructed from the large bronze plaque that once hung in the foyer of the Panther Valley Middle School and was donated last year to the cemetery by Lansford Borough.
"It took over a year of discussions and planning as well as work with the Lansford Borough Council in order for us to proudly provide a home for this piece of history," said GAR President David A. Wargo, "and we are grateful to them for giving us the opportunity to display this memorial so all can remember the sacrifices of these brave men."
The plaque contains a list of the Panther Valley soldiers who served in the Civil War. One half is a list of all veterans by division and regiment, while the right side contains the names of the veterans who formed the Conner Post of the GAR after the war concluded. The large four-foot by twelve-foot monument will reside on a granite base and be locked permanently to a steel housing. The final plan includes greenery, benches and an area of pavers that will be sold to memorialize and honor loved ones, which will help cover the costs of the monument.
Wargo introduced Lansford Council President Rosemary Cannon, who is one of the seven members who voted last year to donate the plaque to the cemetery.
"The plaque was in storage on a table in our community center, and I supported donating it to the cemetery so that people could view it as it was intended. I think the cemetery directors have done a great job with giving the plaque an appropriate home here," she said.
Besides Cannon, Wargo introduced the two dozen attendees of the dedication to other guests including County Commissioner and Summit Hill resident William O'Gurek, Summit Hill Councilman Billy O'Gurek, Jr., the Reverends Marjorie and John Keiter of Nesquehoning; and Emma Weaver, a lay minister from Summit Hill.
Weaver offered a reading from Horatio Alger about cemeteries as well as the benediction for the service. Rev. Marjorie Keiter provided the invocation and the dedication prayer for both the monument and the new section of the cemetery, recently seeded as part of a capital improvement project.
Councilman O'Gurek said, "The community appreciates the hard work you and the board and all the volunteers do up here in the cemetery. You do a great job with keeping this property maintained and it looks great."
Wargo said the monument was one part of a three-phase capital improvement project funded in part by a $10,000 DCED grant the cemetery received last year as part of a consortium of hilltop organizations, including the Summit Hill Community Improvement Organization and the Recreation Commission.
"Thanks to the generosity and solid support of our patrons after only three years we have been able to begin our first major effort to expand and improve the grounds," he said. "We have redone the upper road with modified to address the erosion issues, seeded a 66- by 30-foot area of the cemetery to the east of the current sections and installed this monument. We could not have done any of this without your support."
Since the board of directors, all of whom are volunteers, assumed control of the cemetery in 2009, they have been able to regularly keep the grass trimmed, painted the fence, removed the shrubbery and replaced it with trees on the western border, and cleaned much of the encroaching brush on the northern fence.
"We could not have done any of this without our volunteers who come when called," he said.
Wargo told the crowd that one of the core volunteers unexpectedly passed away.
"Tom Davis was one of our most dedicated volunteers. He, like several others, would always come when called and his sudden death recently saddened us."
He requested a moment of silence in his memory.
Upcoming plans for the cemetery include installation of a columbarium as an alternative for those who desire a cremation burial and the paver program for the GAR memorial.