GAR Cemetery holds Adopt a Headstone program to help with restoration
If you are a resident of the Panther Valley, you know the east side of Summit Hill is home to a number of cemeteries.
Most are church affiliated, but one - The Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery - is a public cemetery overseen by a group of people who want to maintain the history of those buried there, as well as preserve their headstones for generations to come.
There are 77 Civil War veterans who have been laid to rest within the cemetery, as well as scores of various other war veterans, miners and residents who help build the Panther Valley over the years.
“This cemetery is a labor of love for all us,” said David Wargo, president of the GAR Cemetery board of directors. “The history of the cemetery is rich. It really is a historical landmark. We have interred in our cemetery the first European child born in Mauch Chunk Township in the early 1800s. We have heroes who gave their all in the wars we fought. We have miners who died providing for their families and people from all walks of life.
“The richness and variety of the headstones and the scenic pathways really are a joy to walk and we are always finding something new or interesting. It definitely is a unique place to visit.
“We are all volunteers and most of us have been tirelessly working to care for this jewel.”
To keep the cemetery as beautifully maintained as it is, the community’s involvement is paramount and the Adopt a Headstone program has been helping to preserve the cemetery’s rich history for the last six years.
“We realized through the year-round maintenance of the cemetery ... how the elements and environment work to degrade stones,” he said. “As part of our mission and our decision to provide perpetual care to all lots in the cemetery, we saw a need to ask for help as many of these lots no longer have descendants who are living or who are reachable.
“We believe it to be a critical part of our governance of the cemetery to see to it that its residents are not forgotten.”
Headstones sometimes topple due to natural causes, such as age or ground changes because of weather, or sometimes are the victims of vandals. Weather also plays a critical role in the gradual deterioration of the stone.
But, the program helps by maintaining a headstone’s integrity as needed.
“The idea behind the program is we are looking for donors who would be willing to care for a stone in need of restoration or repair by providing a financial contribution to underwrite the cost of the work,” Wargo said. “For smaller jobs, one person might be able to cover a stone. For larger projects, it may require pooling resources to restore a stone.”
All donations to this program or to any other aspect of caring for this cemetery are tax deductible.
To participate in the program, participants, who can be individuals or organizations, just need to contact Wargo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-657-0792 or Karen Miller, managing secretary at 570-657-1108 or email@example.com.
Donations should be labeled for headstone restoration. Donors can also specify which headstone their donation goes toward if they want to, otherwise it will be used for any headstone in need of restoration.
“I am humbled and grateful, and on behalf of the board I want to thank everyone in and out of this area who support us yearly with donations and compliments and most importantly entrust us to care for your loved ones,” Wargo said. “We take our job seriously and our goal is to make sure the GAR Cemetery remains forever as a jewel in Summit Hill’s crown.”