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Assistance League betters cemetery with donations

Monday, January 29, 2007

BLOOMFIELD -- Donations made to honor veterans buried at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield are being put to good use.

The Bloomfield Assistance League of the Missouri Veterans Cemetery was formed as a not-for-profit corporation in the summer of 2004 following the dedication of the cemetery in the fall of 2003 to handle donations to the cemetery.

"A member of the Missouri Veterans Commission of Jefferson City contacted me about establishing a tax-exempt organization to handle all monies or in-

kind donations made to the cemetery -- memorial donations primarily," said R.W. Richmond of Dexter, president of the Assistance League.

Relatives and friends of the veterans buried there often make donations, he explained: "Instead of sending flowers, they'll make a memorial donation in the name of the person that is buried there."

Memorials are the most common type of donation but the cemetery also receives additional donations, according to Blair Moran of Sikeston, vice president for the Assistance League.

"The response from citizens, veterans organizations and civic clubs throughout Southeast Missouri has been outstanding since the inception of the organization," Moran said. "Many important projects have been funded due to the generosity of these individuals and groups."

While the Missouri Veterans Commission has funding to operate and maintain state veterans cemeteries, "there are certain things they don't have the budget to do," Richmond said. "We fill in the gaps with some of the things they are not set up to fund."

A five-member committee which also includes James Harnes of Advance, secretary; Gary Deardorff of Bloomfield, treasurer; and Larry Kimbrow of Poplar Bluff was formed to meet quarterly and review and select project ideas for donated funds.

"All these funds are used to enhance the veterans cemetery," Richmond said.

Kenneth G. Swearengin, director of the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield, is an ex-officio member of the committee and approves all projects.

Projects funded so far include an underwater lighting system for the fountain located in the cemetery's lake; landscaping plants at the entrance of the cemetery; the installation of 130 American flags for the Avenue of Flags; 16 memorial benches placed on the cemetery grounds; a sound system for the committal shelter; and the installation of wiring for the employee break room.

"The lighting of the fountain has drawn a lot of attention," Richmond said, "and the Avenue of the Flags has been very impressive."

The flags are placed along the circle drive on the cemetery's lower level during Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, according to Richmond. "We're anticipating expanding that to take in the upper area," he said.

The sound system, which was installed so speakers can be heard by those attending funerals and other services held at the committal shelter, was used for first time during the last Veterans Day Ceremony in November.

"It sure helps when you have a good sound system," Richmond said.

Most recently at the January quarterly meeting, the League's board authorized funding of a heating system for the committal shelter.

The next major project being considered by the Assistance League for the cemetery would place a wreath on each of the graves at the cemetery. Presently there are about 485 graves.

Richmond said board members are deciding whether to lay the wreaths around Christmas time or to make the project an expansion of "Wreaths Across America," a program held in early December at veterans cemeteries across the nation during which a wreath is laid on the headstone of one member of each branch of services, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, along with a sixth wreath honoring POW/MIAs.

Envelopes for donations to the cemetery are available at the cemetery's office, according to Richmond. "When they come in there to register or pre-certify to be buried there, a lot of people pick them up," he said.