Each year since 1868, Memorial Day is commenced at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, before it was called Memorial Day. With more than 400,000 veterans and their families buried within its walls, Arlington is one of the biggest cemeteries in the United States.
It’s certainly a far cry from our local cemeteries, and yet our little graveyards are preserved and cherished by the members of our community.
Jim Rychnocsky of Adams County was on the board of trustees for Prescott’s Summit Cemetery for 40 years and understands the necessity of rural cemeteries.
“I do it to honor all the deceased souls in Summit Cemetery,” Rychnocsky said. “I feel like it’s kind of like being at home. Our daughter was the first one that was buried there. It has just expanded. It’s a very special cemetery.”
The cemetery is a family affair for Rychnocsky as his parents, in-laws and son-in-law are already buried there. His remaining children and their spouses have plans to make Summit Cemetery their final resting place.
Rychnocsky’s mother is buried near something special. “My mother brought a tree home from Canada in her purse,” he recounted. “That tree is planted over there today — it’s probably 40 feet tall today.”
The fight to preserve rural cemeteries isn’t new. In 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston opened, marking the beginning of the Rural Cemetery Movement — a push to transition graveyards to memorable and pleasant burial grounds.
Many Americans favored moving cemeteries to the countryside where they need not fear city expansion uprooting grave sites.
“It’s definitely a community project,” Rychnocsky said of maintaining the cemetery. The other trustees, his neighbors, the landscaper and his family all help maintain the country cemetery.
But Rychnocsky said there are things everyone can do to help preserve the qualify. “They should pick up their flowers after 30 days of a memorial,” he said. “That helps the individual that’s mowing to not scatter the flowers.”
Creston veteran Robert “Bob” Jungst knew the importance of cemeteries to service members as he was active in organizing military rites for funerals before he passed in 2021. Jungst and his wife, Betty, were named Creston’s citizens of the year in 2009 for their work.
Having met Bob before his time in the military, Betty knew how important this day was for him. Last year, she worked with VFW Post 1797 to set up a flag folding program for the residents of Crest Ridge.
Cemeteries were conceived and designed both as gardens of the dead and as a memorial, but what is a garden without its gardener?
Rychnocsky is confident the board of trustees will continue to carry on the legacy of Summit Cemetery. “I’ve got a lot of memories over there,” he said.