Volunteers clean up cemetery
Dana Henninger of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Summit Hill digs at weeds Sunday during a volunteer cleanup day at GAR Cemetery in Summit Hill. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS
Sunday was cleanup day at the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery in Summit Hill.
Around 20-25 volunteers from three area churches spent the afternoon picking up trash and landscaping the 12-acre property on East White Street.
Sharon Richter, vicar at Zion Lutheran Church in Nesquehoning, said her church along with St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Summit Hill and St. John Slovak Lutheran Church in Lansford participated in the cleanup.
"Sunday is a dedicated day of service for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America so churches all around the country are doing different projects to help in the community," Richter said. "It can be any kind of public service and in talking with David Wargo, who is the GAR Cemetery president and serves on St. Paul's council, we knew this cleanup needed to be done and would make a great project."
There are two cleanups each year at the cemetery, which still routinely holds 15 burials each year, with 9,000 graves already in existence.
In the fall, volunteers pick up trash and remove any leftover flower arrangements placed on graves in the spring and summer.
"Today we're just cleaning up, but in the past we have also painted and done some other things," Wargo said. "We'll also get any tattered and torn flags and give them to the local American Legion so they can be properly destroyed. Then in the spring we try to get people together again to clean up any damage from the winter."
The most recent cleanup was the first time the three congregations had pitched in collectively, and it showed in the turnout.
Wargo said he normally gets just 8-10 people to help with the work. That number was more than doubled Sunday.
"It makes a huge difference," Wargo said. "Six or seven Summit Hill Historical Society members stepped on to the cemetery board of directors several years back when it had fallen into disrepair. Our goal was to bring it back in much better shape. It's the only public cemetery in Carbon County and it deserves to be well maintained. Our hope is to extend it down to the Slovak Lutheran Church Cemetery in the future."
The cemetery is run completely nonprofit by volunteers. Any lot sales go directly back to maintaining the grounds.
Wargo said there is an open spot on the cemetery's board of directors and he's looking for volunteers to complete one major task.
"We need someone to paint a 40-foot flagpole," he said. "The fire company can't get its trucks in here and we don't want to lower the pole because of fears that it may collapse."
Future events at the cemetery include an hourlong walking tour in October that will profile the Civil War and how it impacted the coal mining community.
Seventy-six Civil War veterans are buried in the cemetery.
"If it's successful we'll be looking at doing it every month next year," Wargo said.
With the successful turnout Sunday, Richter said she is open to making it an annual project for the three congregations.
"I think everyone really enjoyed coming out and helping," she added.
"It always feels good to contribute to your community. I don't think anybody would say no to doing this again in the future."