Walking the well-maintained grass paths between gleaming white graves and American flags the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, it’s difficult to imagine Sticklin Greenwood Memorial Park was ever in a state of disrepair.
Retired U.S. Marine Sgt. Major Kelvin Kai said he would have had difficulty understanding the effort and scope of the revitalization effort if he hadn’t seen photos of the historic cemetery from before the City of Centralia and community volunteers started working to restore the site three years ago.
“What I was most impressed with was the selfless service that they showed in honoring the fallen soldiers and family members that lay to rest here,” Kai said at a rededication ceremony for Greenwood Memorial Park on Saturday.
The ceremony was intended as a way to celebrate the restoration work and to pay tribute to those buried in the cemetery, said Marveen Rohr, a volunteer who headed the restoration effort.
“Today, we remember all who are buried in this cemetery with a formal military tribute to our veterans who have been laid to rest here and the flag raising ceremony we just saw to honor those who served in our armed forces,” she said Saturday.
An honor guard, accompanied by American Legion Posts 17 and 25, raised the American and Washington flags as well as flags to every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
For Memorial Day, volunteers placed flags on 450 to 500 veteran gravesites, but they believe there are many more veterans buried whose graves don’t reflect their veteran status.
A “Rosie the Riveter,” Helen Holloway, is buried at Greenwood Memorial Park, and may be buried alongside other “Rosies” who have yet to be identified, according to volunteers. Holloway’s estate recently provided a $182,000 trust for future work at the cemetery.
Speakers recognized the numerous veterans and Gold Star families who were in attendance, and volunteers were on-hand with cemetery maps and records to help people find specific graves.
“The amount of history spelled out on the headstones around us today cannot be replaced and should never be forgotten,” Kai said. “As we reflect on the sacrifices, we must also keep in our thoughts and prayers to millions more that were left behind: wives, husbands, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers, all who bear the burden of going on without them.”
Kai spoke Saturday on the origins of Memorial Day as a holiday along with several historical events where service-members made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The locations are not important. It's the hearts of these men and women that matter. It's the devotion within them that led them to sacrifice their lives for the country and the people they love,” he said.
“We had veterans from every war in our history in the cemetery. And we had those who never had the opportunity to become veterans that gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston during Saturday’s ceremony. “We honor their memory and their sacrifice. And we honor those Gold Star families who live with such a loss. We remember them all.”
The cemetery fell into disrepair while still under the ownership of John Baker, who had several legal and criminal issues unrelated to the cemetery that at one point landed him in prison.
The City of Centralia officially took over Sticklin Greenwood Memorial Park in 2018 after it received $250,000 from the state to purchase the property. The city subsequently obtained an additional $500,000 from the 2019 state capital budget for its restoration, at which point volunteers began holding work parties to clean up the site.
But the Greenwood restoration effort began years before the City of Centralia took ownership of the property, according to District 20 Rep. Ed Orcutt, who spoke briefly during Saturday’s ceremony.
Orcutt’s predecessor, Richard Deval, had spoken to him eight years ago about constituents’ concerns surrounding the neglect at Greenwood, and Orcutt has been involved on a legislative level since.
“I helped work with the policy but all of you, all of the community here, got together and did this, so the thank you goes to all of you and all of your hard work,” said Orcutt, “And I'm so glad we're doing this on Memorial Day weekend. Because I really think of no better tribute to our fallen soldiers than the work that has been done here.”
Sticklin Greenwood Memorial Park is located at 1803 Van Wormer St. in Centralia and is open to the public.