Volunteers, donations welcome for wreaths on veterans’ graves in Medina

File photo by Tom Rivers: Wreaths are shown on veterans’ graves at Boxwood Cemetery in Medina in January 2017.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 8 November 2020 at 8:07 am

MEDINA – Boxwood Cemetery will again be the site of the annual Wreaths Across America ceremony, a program started at the cemetery in 2015 by Kathy Blackburn.

The first year, there were 15 wreaths placed at Boxwood on graves in the veterans’ section at the front of Boxwood Cemetery. Last year, Blackburn and other volunteers placed more than 100.

They have had support from the American Legion, VFW, Junior Wilson Club and Sacred Heart Society, and are looking for a corporate sponsor this year. Ideally, Blackburn would like to see a local company step up to sponsor the program and have its employees volunteer to help. Last year local Girl Scouts volunteered and this year both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts from Troop 28 will volunteer.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, left, greets Dave Barhite of Lyndonville prior to last year’s Wreaths Across America ceremony at Boxwood Cemetery in Medina. Kathy Blackburn, right, started the program and is looking for donations for wreaths this year.

“We appreciate the Scouts volunteering, and are excited to have them helping again this year,” Blackburn said.

The deadline for donations is Nov. 30, and anyone may send a check for $15 to Village of Medina, marked for “Wreaths Across America,” 119 Park Ave., Medina NY 14103. Donors may specify if they want their wreath placed on a certain grave.

Volunteers are also needed to place the wreaths during the ceremony Dec. 19. They may contact Blackburn at kblackbu@rochester.rr.com, and should arrive at Boxwood Cemetery at 11:45 a.m. The ceremony will begin at noon.

“This is a great program,” Blackburn said. “I am happy to be involved, because my father and uncles all served in World War II.”

Wreaths Across America was started in 1992 by Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, who found his company with an abundance of wreaths near the end of the holiday season. Worcester had visited Washington, D.C. as a 12-year-old and seeing Arlington National Cemetery made a lifelong impression on him.

The experience followed him throughout his life, reminding him his good fortune was due in part to the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

So Worcester contacted his local senator and arrangements were made for wreaths to be placed on graves at an older section of Arlington, which had been receiving fewer visitors each year.

As Worcester made plans to donate wreaths for those graves, other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. A local trucking company offered to provide the transportation to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW posts, along with members of Worcester’s community, gathered to decorate each wreath with red bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The annual tribute went on quietly until 2005, when a photo of stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet. Suddenly, the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project at their national and state cemeteries or to simply share their stories and thank Worcester for honoring our nation’s heroes.

Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Worcester began sending seven wreaths to every state, one for each branch of the military and for POW/MIAs. In 2006, with help from the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies were held at more than 150 locations around the country. The Patriot Guard Riders volunteered as escort for the wreaths going to Arlington, which began the annual “Veterans Honor Parade” that travels the east coast early each December.

Groups of volunteers eager to participate in the wreath-laying event grew each year, and according to Worcester’s website, it became clear the desire to remember and honor the country’s fallen heroes was bigger than Arlington, and bigger than this one company.

In 2007, the Worcester family, with help from veterans and other groups and individuals, formed Wreaths Across America. The next year more than 300 locations had wreath-laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries. And that year, the U.S. Congress unanimously voted Dec. 13 as “Wreaths Across America Day.”

From more than 100,000 wreaths in 2008, volunteers laid more than 700,000 memorial wreaths in 2014 at 1,000 locations, including Pearl Harbor, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the site of the World Trade Center tragedy of Sept. 11. The goal of covering Arlington National Cemetery was met in 2014 with the placement of 226,525 wreaths.

Blackburn first heard about Wreaths Across American when Medina resident Shirley Whittleton suggested it at a meeting of the Boxwood Cemetery Association, of which Blackburn is president.

“I looked into it and decided it wouldn’t be that difficult to do,” Blackburn said.

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