Frank Landi (on the right) shows examples of damaged headstones at Spring Grove Cemetery on April 17. He, Wayne Southern (far left) and a few others plan to host some workdays this spring, beginning May 1. Delavan Mayor Ryan Schroeder (center) and the local historical society are helping raise money for the cause. (Mike Hoey photo)

Money is being raised to repair damaged headstones

By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

Wayne Southern and a few of his friends have been trying for years to repair several damaged and deteriorating headstones at Spring Grove Cemetery. This spring, they are finally getting enough help that real progress could be made, if all goes well.

Headstones at the cemetery – which is actually two cemeteries – have been deteriorating for years. St. Andrew Catholic Parish also owns a cemetery adjacent to Spring Grove. Southern said headstones have been toppling for years as a result of age and weather.

Nine years ago, vandals pushed the process further along. More than 80 headstones in the oldest portion of the cemetery, where the founders of Delavan were buried, were pushed over and damaged, as reported in the Delavan Enterprise in April of 2012. Southern said some arrests were made but no one was forced to repair or replace any of the damaged headstones.

Southern, who moved to Delavan 19 years ago, worked as a caretaker at Spring Grove from 2003 until about a month ago when he retired.

He said he has tried for years to get Dan Kilkenny, cemetery manager, to release some funds from the cemetery’s perpetual care fund to repair the headstones without success but Kilkenny told him the fund was for burying people and once buried the maintenance of the headstones is the responsibility of the family. The problem with that, Southern said, is that many of the people buried in the cemetery no longer have family living in the area, so no one takes care of the headstones.

Another option for Southern was the Delavan Historical Society as he was told the society might help but it never went any further.

That changed this spring when Delavan Mayor Ryan Schroeder – who is also on the board of the historical society – got involved. The historical society will now serve as the non-profit organization that can help raise money for a renewed effort to raise as many headstones as possible. Schroeder said a Go Fund Me page has been created to raise money for the project.

“It helps to have the mayor involved,” Southern said.

Involved process

The project involves digging out the base of a damaged or sinking headstone, leveling it out with gravel, and using adhesive to secure the broken headstone to the base.

Southern said he is hoping to raise $5,000 and find several volunteers to help over three Saturdays in May, beginning on May 1. He also said people who are not strong enough to lift the stone headstones can help in other ways. Many of the headstones cannot be read after years of weather and aging. There are ways to clean them and restore what is inscribed on them. There is also a retaining wall along the cemetery’s entrance that is in need of a paint job.

He said he and a couple of friends have already restored about 20 headstones, but he is getting older and no longer strong enough to do the work.

Southern said the project is important to him as a way to respect the dead.

“It does not respect the dead to leave headstones knocked over,” he said. “I think it’s time somebody does something.”

Frank Landi agrees. Landi has been raising money to restore the headstone of a Civil War veteran at Old Settler’s Cemetery in downtown Delavan and another headstone of a Civil War veteran in Spring Grove. He said it will cost $1,100 to restore the headstone at Old Settler’s and he is $250 short of that goal.

Landi, who has lived in Delavan since 1968, has written 10 books about the history of Delavan, including one about Spring Grove Cemetery. The cemetery has over 1,100 veterans with every war the United States has participated in represented. Landi said his book about the cemetery provides a history of the community as it includes several obituaries and articles about people buried there.

Landi, a retired Delavan-Darien High School science and math teacher, said he got involved in the movement to restore the headstones after noticing how many were damaged while researching for his book.

He said he wants to pay tribute to the veterans buried in the cemetery and restore some of the architecture of the community.

A worthy partnership

Schroeder said he was aware there was a small group interested in restoring headstones at Spring Grove and that the historical society had looked into helping a while back. He said once he was made aware of the group’s efforts he was glad to bring the two entities together.

He also said the more people who get involved the more that can be done. The Go Fund Me page, he said, generated $1,420 toward the $5,000 goal on its first day. It will be open for the next 45 days.

Schroeder called the project a real grassroots effort as some individuals and a non-profit organization are making it happen.

“We need to do our part to respect those who came before us and the contributions they have made,” he said.

Southern, Landi and Schroeder led a meeting April 17 at Spring Grove Cemetery to raise awareness and recruit volunteers. Southern later said he was pleasantly surprised at how many people showed up. Fifteen other people attended and showed real interest in helping.

Delavan Historical Society Director Patti Marsicano could not attend the meeting but did issue the following statement to be read:

“Thank you all for being here. I hope your interest in this project will continue as we give these resting places the respect they deserve. One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Edmund Burke – ‘He alone deserves to be remembered by his children who treasures up and preserves the memory of his fathers.’ I hope that we can work together to find the best way to repair our cemetery and be proud of what we can accomplish together,” Marsicano wrote.

One of the people at the meeting, Greg Sawtelle, said he’s very interested in history and preservation. He said he has a daughter buried at Spring Grove and often wonders who will take care of her grave after he and his wife are gone.

“This is our history and it needs to be preserved,” Sawtelle said. “It is critical as a community.”

Several other people echoed those comments with stories of their own about having loved ones buried in the cemetery or being disappointed in the deteriorating condition of the cemetery in recent years. Others suggested fundraising ideas or ways to recruit volunteers and one idea was to recruit high school students who need community service hours to graduate.

The first workday at the cemetery will be on Saturday, May 1 starting at 10 a.m. and will continue over the following two Saturdays, May 8 and May 15. Anyone wishing to help out is welcome to attend.

Donations are being collected through the Delavan Historical Society’s Facebook page. That link can also be found on a separate Facebook page that’s been created – Delavan’s Spring Grove Cemetery Restoration.

For more information, contact Historical Society Director Patti Marsicano at 262-745-9473 or info@delavanhistory.org.

 

 
 

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