Van Buren Township’s Flag Lady, Marie Krouse, with her arms full of tattered and broken American Flags, told the VBT Board of Trustees at its July 6 meeting about the demolition of flags that she had placed on veterans’ graves.
The township board already was set on firing Abraham Landscaping for not fulfill its obligations at mowing and for being careless in the cemeteries, but Krouse’s report, followed by statements by historian Cathy Horste strengthened the board’s resolve.
Krouse said she comes from a family of people who have served in the military, including her husband who retired after 24 years in the Air Force and two children who are on active duty.
She loves her country and its flag. Since she is currently unemployed, she has taken the responsibility of placing flags on the graves of veterans in the township’s four cemeteries. Two to three times a week, she visits the cemeteries to check the flags for damage. (She also places flags in the Sumpter Township cemetery.)
She said two weeks before Memorial Day she checked the cemeteries and found that the township’s cleaning crew had pulled out all the flags and thrown them in the trash after the annual spring cleanup.
Krouse said Boy Scouts earn badges for properly disposing of American Flags and she always carefully collects damaged flags. She gives them to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and they give them to the Boys Scouts for the ceremony.
“You had a lot of angry vets who felt dishonored right before Memorial Day,” Krouse said of the members of the Belleville VFW and Polish Legion of American Veterans posts.
She put in all new flags so they would be in place for Memorial Day.
On June 25, she said Joanne Montgomery from the clerk’s office called her to tell her a new veteran had been buried at Tyler Street Cemetery. She brought her flags, supplied by the township, and headed to the cemetery.
When she arrived, she found many flags that were damaged by weed-whipping, which she can tell is much different than weather damage.
After checking, she found another 30 were destroyed at Soop Cemetery.
“All the flags were new before Memorial Day,” she said, adding she had photos of the damage to the flags and stones.
“If you don’t have to pay them, please don’t,” she said of Abraham’s. “They don’t deserve it.”
Cathy Horste, VBT’s volunteer historian since 1976, gave a history lesson on VBT cemetery care. She had served as Sexton of the Township’s cemeteries during the 1970s and early ‘80s.
She said she is glad the township has taken steps to solve the problem with the mowing, but now it must address the state of disrepair of the fragile, old tombstones in the cemeteries.
She said a five-foot monument in Tyler Street Cemetery has a sizable chunk knocked off at the corner of it, apparently by a lawnmower. She said they could match the color left as evidence.
She said in the 1900s, the township organized cemetery associations at each of the cemeteries. A portion of the sale price of each cemetery lot was set aside for the perpetual care of the cemeteries and the tombstones.
Although the township mowed the grass, the cemetery associations did things like maintain the pitcher pumps, reset fallen stones and repair broken ones.
They used the money from the township in the perpetual care accounts to do the resets and repairs, Horste said.
“Between the township’s DPW and cemetery associations, our cemeteries were beautiful – the envy of our neighboring communities,” she said.
She said in about 1975, the township disbanded the cemetery associations and put their perpetual care money into the general fund.
Supervisor Elton Gollwitzer promised the public, the lot owners, and their descendents that the township would continue the perpetual care, including, specifically, the stone maintenance.
“I know the township meant well with that promise — many of you have family buried there. But I fear the promise may have been forgotten,” Horste said.
She said after last year’s Haunted History Tombstone Tour, she received several telephone calls from people who enjoyed the tour but were very concerned about the fallen stones.
She said the establishment of a cemetery oversight committee is a good idea, but she is against leaving the work up to volunteers. She said the repairs should be paid for by the township in accordance with the promises made in 1975.
She said in 1977, she supervised the township’s reset work, which took only a bag of ready-mix cement to fill the frame and reset the stone on it.
She said she will volunteer her time to work with the DPW crews to identify the stones that need to be reset in each cemetery and to show them how to do it, if necessary.
“I beg you, don’t let the well-being of our treasured souls depend on committees and donations or the goodwill of others,” said Horste as the tears flowed.
“And please don’t let these treasures become lost.”
Clerk Leon Wright said he visited all four cemeteries and found they are in “dire need.”
He said he is organizing a cemetery advisory committee with the sole goal of putting together a cemetery ordinance.
“I want to reach out to the community to get their ideas on this… And I will see what support we can get from the general fund to support this.”
Supervisor White commended DPW Director Todd Knepper for being on top of the mowing problems from the start. Knepper said Parks and Facilities Director Bruce Ross reported back to him on the problems and they tried to do the appropriate thing.