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135 wreaths laid on veterans’ graves at Boxwood in Medina

Photos by Ginny Kropf: A veterans’ honor guard and VFW member Jim Freas stand at attention while Kathy Blackburn reads a prayer during a wreath-laying ceremony Saturday in Boxwood Cemetery.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 16 December 2018 at 2:07 pm

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley pauses to salute after placing a wreath in Boxwood Cemetery Saturday in honor of all veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

MEDINA – Four years ago, when Kathy Blackburn learned about Wreaths Across America and wanted to involve the Medina community, she received donations for seven wreaths to place on veterans’ graves in Boxwood Cemetery.

On Saturday, the number of wreaths donated for the project was 135.

Wreaths Across America was an idea of Morrill Worcester, owner of a wreath company in Harrington, Maine. As a young boy, he had visited Arlington National Cemetery, an experience he never forgot. So in 1992, when his company found itself with a surplus of wreaths, Worcester saw an opportunity to honor the country’s veterans.

With aid of his local senator, arrangements were made for him to donate wreaths to be placed in one of the older sections at Arlington, which had been receiving fewer visitors each year.

As plans were made, other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. The owner of a local trucking company provided transportation for the wreaths to Virginia. Volunteers from the American Legion and VFW posts gathered with community members to decorate each wreath and members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The annual tribute continued quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered with snow, was circulated on the internet. Suddenly, the project received national attention.

Requests began pouring in from all over the country from people who wanted to help at Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project in their local cemeteries or to just thank Worcester for honoring the nation’s heroes.

Todd Bensley, Village of Medina historian and member of the Boxwood Cemetery Association; Assemblyman Stephen Hawley; Dave Barhite, a member of the American Legion; and Kathy Blackburn, who chairs the Wreaths Across America project, talk prior to a ceremony Saturday in Boxwood Cemetery, in which 135 wreaths were placed on veterans’ graves.

Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Worcester began sending seven wreaths to each state, one for each branch of the military and one for POW/MIAs. By 2006, with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies took place at more than 150 locations around the country.

The Patriot Guard Riders volunteered to escort the wreaths going to Arlington, thus beginning the annual “Veterans Honor Parade” which travels the East coast early each December.

The annual trip to Arlington and volunteers eager to participate continued to grow each year, until it became evident the desire to remember and honor the country’s fallen heroes was bigger than Arlington and bigger than Worcester’s one wreath company.

In 2007, the Worcester family and others who had helped them with the annual wreath ceremony at Arlington, formed Wreaths Across America, a 501(c)3 organization to continue and expand this effort.

Volunteers wait to place wreaths on the graves of veterans representing all branches of the military during the Wreaths Across American project Saturday at Boxwood Cemetery. From left are Rodney Casey, Todd Bensley, Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, Dave Barhite, Shirley Whittleton (partially hidden) Sandra Fenton and Tom Fenton.

By 2008, more than 300 locations had wreath-laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 oversees cemeteries. More than 60,000 volunteers placed more than 100,000 wreaths on veterans’ graves. That year, Dec. 13 was voted by the U.S. Congress as “Wreaths Across America Day.”

In 2014, Wreaths Across America volunteers laid more than 700,000 memorial wreaths at 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond, including at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Bunker Hill and Valley Forge, as well as the sites of the Sept. 11 tragedies. Also in

2014, Wreaths Across America’s goal of covering Arlington National Cemetery was met with the placement of 226,525 wreaths.

For the first time in Medina this year, Girl Scouts from the Cobblestone Service Unit volunteered to help place the wreaths.

Leader Pauline Bachorski said she discovered the Wreaths Across America project when she was searching online for something the Scouts could do for their community.

Dozens of volunteers, which included 13 Girl Scouts from the Cobblestone Service Unit in Albion, place wreaths on veterans’ graves throughout Boxwood Cemetery during the national Wreaths Across American project.

Community members who volunteered to lay the seven wreaths, one for each branch of the military and one for those missing in action or prisoners of war, were Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, Tom and Sandra Fenton, Dave Barhite, Shirley Whittleton, Todd Bensley and Rodney Casey.

The ceremony included a prayer by veteran Dave Kusmierczak, a three-gun salute by a veterans’ honor guard and playing of Taps by Earl Schmidt.

Anyone wishing to sponsor a wreath may visit www.WreathsAcrossAmerica.org and click on “sponsor locally,” “find a location” (New York or 14103) or contact Blackburn at (585) 735-5801.

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