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Now a holiday tradition, the event was imagined by Morrill Worcester of Harrington, Maine, whose visit to Arlington as a 12-year-old paper boy led him in 1992 to lead the Surplus Wreaths of his vacation companies to some of the less visited graves there.
He comes to Springfield this year largely through word of mouth and the determined work of Springfield’s Betsy Van Hoose, whose husband, Tim, is a veteran, whose eldest son served as a scout in the US Cavalry and the youngest son is in the US Navy.
Coming home together from a Wreathes Across America ceremony in Greenville, Ohio last year, “My husband was just wondering why we couldn’t have support for something like this here,” said Betsy Van Hoose.
He was speaking to the most susceptible and qualified person to make this happen.
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Last year, and for the past two years, she had helped her friend and former colleague, Debbie Nissonger, increase the wreath celebration across America at Greenville Union Cemetery from 200 crowns to 600 to 1,200 this year, while the search turned out the location of the graves of more veterans.
“I’ll miss her this year,” said Nissonger, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution whose respect for veterans dates back to the Virginian George Ward, who fought in that war. “She would come early and help us do all the groundwork – set things up, get things ready before the volunteers showed up. Betsy has been involved with us from the start.
Nonetheless, “When I started the project I was really nervous,” said Van Hoose, office coordinator at Springfield Regional Medical Center. “I prayed and prayed about it and received comfort from God.” She also gained support from First Christian Church in Springfield, where she sits on a military committee whose members have made three quilts in the past year to honor the congregation’s deceased veterans.
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“Someone in the military group suggested (approaching) Saint Bernard (cemetery),” Van Hoose said.
For cemetery superintendent Wayne Woodruff, it was a godsend.
“I took care of this cemetery eight years ago, and from our first year here, I thought our mound of soldiers looked terrible,” he said. “Since then, I wanted to do something with it and I just didn’t have the resources.
From the moment Van Hoose arrived, said Woodruff’s wife, Trusie, who is also helping the cemetery to leave, “he was amazing. She just ran with it.
On a hot day in May, she also “walked through this whole graveyard on her own and identified all the soldiers she could,” added Trusie Woodruff. Because no such investigation had ever been undertaken, “It was a blessing to us.”
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Then, under the leadership of Theresa Silvers, who chairs First Christian’s military committee, church members came up with a solution for collecting the oversized boulders and pampas grass that made up the mound of veterans including Mr. Woodruff had worried for a long time: they adopted him.
Ms Woodruff said she got wind of it in June and the project was completed on July 4.
“I’ve never seen a group of women move faster,” she says.
Along the way, the church purchased the flowers, received topsoil from Lawnmasters, a helping hand from Speedway LLC, and a flag pole from the Veterans Administration and Pinnacle Flagpole.
“It wasn’t just one person doing it,” said Betsy Van Hoose.
Other people who rallied around were Springfield VFW Posts 1031 and 3660, Speedway LLC, the Fraternal Order of Clark County Police, Troy Fish & Game, AG Samuelson, and Dave’s Truck and Auto Paint.
In the end, the effort raised enough money to cover the cost of purchasing the 611 wreaths for this year’s ceremony and around $ 15 each. A volunteer truck driver will deliver the wreaths.
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Although everything seems to be in place for the inaugural event at Saint Bernard Cemetery, it is still possible for people to participate. Those who have already purchased wreaths for a specific veteran can place the wreath on the grave; however, volunteers are invited and needed to deposit the hundreds of wreaths purchased by larger donors rather than individuals.
Betsy Van Hoose recommends it. Even after the hundreds of times she laid a wreath, then stepped back and thanked the veteran aloud for his service, “I’m still suffocated. Some of these people no longer have families coming, and I hope they look down and feel remembered.
Those interested in participating can visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/OH0292 and click on “volunteer”. (Make sure to include the information after the slash, which ensures a connection with the Springfield event.)
Donations still made on the website this year will go to next year’s event.
Wayne Woodruff of St. Bernard Cemetery, who says “I can’t even begin to express how much I appreciate” what happened, has two things on his wish list.
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“I’m not happy” with the way the alignment of the first row of headstones in the veterans sector, he said. “I immediately think of Arlington Cemetery,” where everything is perfectly aligned.
For that to happen, it will take work. Then there is what you might call his favorite project.
“I have women who work to make me a cannon,” said Woodruff. “It’s not a compromise if it’s not functional,” he added, “but functioning would be ideal.”
From the time the Woodruffs started at the graveyard, “he wanted a canon here,” his wife said.
“I think that’s part of the boy in him.”
Then again, it was a 12-year-old paper boy’s visit to Arlington National Cemetery that kicked off Wreaths Across America.