PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. — This holiday season, 414 green evergreen wreaths with bright red bows adorn veterans’ graves in eight Pequot Lakes area cemeteries, all because one local woman believed all veterans should be honored as her husband is.
“My husband is buried at the military cemetery at Little Falls. I’d go there and they lay 4,000 wreaths every year. I thought, why can’t we do this? Because not everybody is buried in a national cemetery and gets the recognition,” Cathy Malecha, of Pequot Lakes, said, referring to the Wreaths Across America/Wreaths for the Fallen endeavor at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery, where her husband, Al, is buried.
Those wreaths weren’t placed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sixth annual Christmas for Vets event did occur, with volunteers placing wreaths on veterans’ graves at Pequot Lakes City Cemetery, Jenkins City Cemetery, Norwood Cemetery in Jenkins Township, and Our Savior’s Lutheran, Kedron, Stony Brook, Maple Hill and Pleasant Hill cemeteries.
Just over 200 wreaths were placed that first year in the Our Savior’s and Pequot Lakes City cemeteries. Three cemeteries were added for the second annual event in 2016 - Jenkins city, Kedron and Stony Brook (Gloria Dei Lutheran Church), both in rural Pequot Lakes.
In its fifth year, Norwood Cemetery in Jenkins Township, Maple Hill Cemetery in Maple Township and Pleasant Hill Cemetery in rural Pequot Lakes were added.
A hope is to expand to Pine River Cemetery, Pinewood Cemetery in Crosslake and Lake Edward Cemetery if people step up to take on the venture. The Christmas for Vets organization approached Breezy Point, but that city already puts wreaths on veterans’ graves in the city cemetery.
When the idea first formed in Malecha’s mind, she mentioned it to Sharon Thurlow.
“I said, ‘Hey, I would love to see that myself,” Thurlow said.
The two women walked the cemeteries and found veterans’ graves, and longtime Pequot Lakes resident Carolynn Buss contacted as many of those veterans’ families as possible.
“A lot of them, the families are gone,” Malecha said.
Enlisting help from others, including Shirley Robideaux, the women sent letters to veterans’ families, who were receptive to helping pay for wreaths. Then they sought help from service clubs, including the Pequot Lakes-Breezy Point Lions Club, Pelican Lakes Conservation Club, Ideal Community Service Organization, Pequot Lakes American Legion and Auxiliary, and the Pequot Lakes Area Historical Society.
Other people and businesses donate to the cause, including those with no connections to veterans in those cemeteries.
"No veteran is left without a wreath. If they don't have family here anymore, no one to pay for their wreath, they still get a wreath."
— Cathy Malecha
“No veteran is left without a wreath. If they don’t have family here anymore, no one to pay for their wreath, they still get a wreath,” Malecha said, noting wreaths cost $15 each.
Volunteers are sought each year to help put the stakes in the ground in October, hang the wreaths in December and pull the stakes in February.
Malecha and Thurlow noted there’s a lot of history in the Pequot Lakes City Cemetery, including burials of the city’s first mayor as well as veterans from the Civil War, Spanish American War and World War I. A Bronze Star veteran is buried in the Our Savior’s cemetery.
Both women have many relatives who served in the military, which is why this project is important to them. Thurlow loves the history she finds in cemeteries and hopes more families with children will get involved to learn the same. And her husband is a Vietnam veteran, her dad served in World War II and she has uncles who were in the military.
Malecha cited the same.
“My husband was a veteran. My brother was in Vietnam. I have a first cousin who was wounded in Korea. I have uncles who were in World War II,” Malecha said, again saying not everybody can be buried in a national cemetery so communities need to step up to recognize these veterans in other cemeteries.
“They have people who served just as bravely and I think they need to be recognized.”
“If each little town did this, wouldn’t this be great?” Malecha said.
Contributions can be sent to Christmas for Vets, 31018 Rasmussen Road, #205, Pequot Lakes, MN 56472. For more information to donate or volunteer, call 218-568-4488 or 218-831-1045.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.