Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Red, White, and Beautiful


By Linda Meadors, Trimble Funeral and Cremation Centers

Memorial Day is nearly upon us and our local Rock Island National Cemetery is preparing to patriotically greet the families of our Nation’s soldiers with the Avenue of Flags and Memorial Day Observances on May 26. Behind the scenes you’ll find a congenial group of volunteers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty: The Friends of the Rock Island National Cemetery.

While the National Cemetery is under the authority of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is staffed by a handful of National Cemetery employees, the “Friends” strive to raise funds to beautify and improve the cemetery grounds, increase public awareness of the cemetery, and provide assistance to the groundskeepers.

As a not-for-profit foundation established in 1998, volunteers meet monthly with the professional staff to map out a beautification plan to achieve a serene atmosphere for the historic Rock Island National Cemetery by planting appropriate areas with colorful flowers, trees, and assorted greenery. From April through the first frost of the fall, members follow through on the current year’s plan by contacting local nurseries for in-kind plant materials, requesting funding from like-minded groups, and looking for more Friends interested in joining this patriotic grassroots effort.

One of the group’s first volunteers, Roald Zvonik, is still active today. As a Veteran of World War II, Master Gardener, and member of the Tri-City Rose and Garden Club, Roald felt compelled to help the group in his retirement. “I found the National Cemetery to be drab and the landscaping marginally functional,” commented Zvonik. “With my love of roses, I felt I could help brighten things up. Our first project was to create a Memorial Walkway with a rose garden at the end where the MIA and POW flags now fly. Since we had no budget, I called upon groups like the Rock Island Arsenal Women’s Club, and regional funeral directors to get startup funds.” Within a year, Roald accepted the presidency of the fledgling nonprofit foundation.

In 2012, Mrs. Alex Schmidt turned over the presidency to Terry Lockheart. Terry recalls how he got involved. “I saw an article in the paper and came to the monthly meeting to see what it was all about. Our Veterans and their families deserve the best. I knew I wanted to get involved and I was touched with the patriotic sentiment and respectful mission of the group. My feet were firmly planted with Friends,” he said.

“Each spring we look at the health of our gardens. This past harsh winter was particularly hard on the beds, especially with hungry deer. We have a challenging planting season ahead of us. We need more volunteers who can work in the gardens, ask for donations, or become financial supporters,” said Lockheart.

Terry can’t say enough about the full-time Rock Island National Cemetery grounds crew and staff assisting local funeral directors with burials.

Little did Terry know that in 2013 his son would suffer a massive heart attack and die at age 53. Martin Lockheart, a U.S. Army Veteran, is buried in the National Cemetery right across from a wildflower bed planted by Friends volunteers.

In the 15 years that have passed since the founding of this nonprofit, the Friends are proud of their beautification accomplishments which include: Memorial Walk & Rose Garden, Iron Gateway Garden, Monument landscaping, Evergreen garden at Committal Shelter 1, Women’s Memorial Garden, Flanders Fields WWI Memorial Garden, and the Columbarium Wildflower Garden. In 2014, volunteers plan to plant colorful annuals in existing gardens and enhance the landscaping around Committal Shelter 2.

Committee member Marlys G. Schmidt expressed emotional ties to the Rock Island National Cemetery where her father, Waldo Goetsch was the Cemetery Superintendent from 1940-1959. “I lived and worked on the Island, was married at Quarters 11, and my loved ones are all buried in the National Cemetery,” shared Marlys.

“Over the years, I have received comfort coming to this quiet space. I enjoy sitting under the shade of the walnut tree, which was transplanted from land owned by Abraham Lincoln. The colorful flowers planted by volunteers make me proud. I especially enjoy listening to the Carillon bell concerts. This is sacred soil. I feel I can talk with my loved ones about my joys or fears, and even vent!” she reflected.

Marlys enjoys sharing stories about Veteran’s traditions told by her father. She is the group’s historian.

The current Memorial Day remembrance festivities have taken place in the National Cemetery since 1944. This legacy of respect spans the entire Memorial Day weekend as each grave marker is adorned with a flag.

On Friday, May 23, Friends are collaborating with Veterans Funeral Care, a division of Trimble Funeral and Cremation Centers, and In Touch Adult Day Services, to bring area Veterans to the cemetery to place individual flags at the graves of fallen comrades. Cemetery staff and groundskeepers will conduct a tour of the grounds in golf carts.

Marlys, Roald, and Terry all share the same vision for the Friends group. Roald said it best, “We need to attract new younger members who have a vested interest in this beautiful national resting place. With each season comes the opportunity to work with the soil, flowers, or evergreens. Those who can’t get away during the day can contribute financially or ask a local nursery to contribute in-kind plant materials in accordance with the groundskeepers’ plans.”

How to get involved

  • Monthly meeting: 1 p.m., first Tuesday, Mar–Nov in Cemetery Administration Bldg. 118
  • Contact Terry Lockheart, President at 309-721-3672.
  • Send a contribution to: Friends of the Rock Island National Cemetery 2017 32nd St. Rock Island, IL 61201

Linda Meadors is the Director of Family and Community Relations at the Veterans Funeral Care and Trimble Funeral and Cremation Centers. She is also a member of Friends of the Rock Island National Cemetery.

Veterans Funeral Care and Trimble Funeral and Cremation Center will be moving to their new Moline facility at Trimble Pointe, 701 12th St. in early summer 2014. Trimble will remain the closest funeral home to Rock Island National Cemetery. The center will offer unparalleled options for funeral and memorial services with adaptable visitation and hospitality areas including CityView at Trimble Pointe, a fully licensed reception center. For more information, call 309-764-1144.