New Lenox Honors Fallen Vets

Photos courtesy of Cathy Welch
Photos courtesy of Cathy Welch

By Karen Haave

Military veterans buried in two New Lenox cemeteries were remembered again in December by a group of volunteers determined to never let their service be forgotten.

The volunteers met at Maplewood and Marshall Cemeteries to place 320 red-ribboned wreaths on veterans’ gravesites.

The event is organized by the New Lenox Fire Department and supported by the New Lenox VFW Post and its Auxiliary.

“We do this as part of Wreaths Across America,” Cathy Welch, who volunteered with her husband Bill, explained.

“Because local cemeteries are not National cemeteries, our veterans buried locally may sometimes be overlooked for this event.

“Our New Lenox Fire Protection District wanted to be sure that didn’t happen. So they started placing wreaths at our two local, New Lenox cemeteries: Maplewood and Marshall, making sure our local veterans and heroes are not forgotten during Wreaths Across America and the holiday season.

“Skip Minger, with the New Lenox Fire Protection District, invited our New Lenox American Legion Post 1977 membership and Auxiliary to donate towards the cost of the wreaths and participate in placing them.
“This is our second year donating and our first year participating. All the Legion members were excited to be a part of this,” she said.

“Our veterans come first, and we want to be sure every one of them is remembered. Some of our friends are laid to rest here, as well.

“Additionally, some of these veterans go back to the Civil War, which speaks volumes about their dedication and hard work to originally settle this area and service to our country when it was at its infancy.

“It’s fascinating and an honor to read their names and place a wreath where they all now lay.”
Marisa Tomich, Fire & Life Safety Educator/Public Information Officer, said the idea for raising funds and participating in Wreaths Across America was first born “when our now retired Chief Steve Engledow and our Trustee Skip Minger attended a Wreaths Across America ceremony together in 2014.”

“Engledow’s father is buried in the cemetery and Minger is a veteran, so they both have a strong connection to the event,” she said.

“A year later, the NLFD started collecting donations to purchase wreaths for Wreaths Across America with a goal of purchasing 1,800 wreaths – which would cover one entire section at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois. (The cemetery currently has over 68,000 graves, with around 3,000 burials per year.)

“In 2016, the campaign for wreaths collected over $16,000 from local businesses and residents to purchase wreaths, which was enough to cover 1,066 gravesites. By 2020, the campaign was able to raise nearly $30,000 which allowed us to purchase 1,900 wreaths, exceeding our goal.

“In 2022,” Tomich continued, “the wreaths committee wanted to also recognize veterans who are in the New Lenox cemeteries. They spent many hours locating as many veteran gravesites locally as possible. The committee chose a couple dates, along with National Wreaths Across America day, placing wreaths in New Lenox, as well as at Abraham Lincoln Cemetery.

“Our wreaths committee is in charge of purchasing the wreaths. A nonprofit was set up years ago, Wreaths for Veterans, which is where donations are made to the campaign. The cost of wreaths went up for the first time this year–since we started raising funds– to $17 each. The New Lenox wreaths are purchased from Lowes, the others (for ALNC) are purchased through Wreaths Across America.”

Tomich said 20 volunteers placed wreaths at the New Lenox cemeteries, and 45 were on deck to participate in Wreaths Across America at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.

She noted that anyone interested in participating is welcome. Volunteers from the fire district, local businesses and organizations, such as the VFW, and area residents were signed up.

“This campaign is a way for us to honor those who gave so much to our country, some of them paying the ultimate sacrifice,” she added.

“If you have ever had the opportunity to participate in the ceremony and laying of the wreaths on National Wreaths Across America day, it is a truly humbling experience. “Anyone who is interested in donating toward the purchase of wreaths through our campaign can send a check made payable to ‘Wreaths for Veterans’ to the New Lenox Fire District at 261 E. Maple Street, New Lenox, IL 60451. Any donations raised after the purchase of this year’s wreaths will be put toward next year’s purchase.”

And even though initial weather forecasts were for heavy rain on December 9, Tomich said her group would not be deterred.

The wreaths would be placed on the gravesites, she said, “rain, sleet, snow or shine.”

Karen Haave is a freelance reporter.

Photos courtesy of Cathy Welch

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