EL DORADO — It’s a quintessential Christmas decoration and symbol — the evergreen wreath. But it is also so much more. More than 100 evergreen wreaths have been placed on graves in cemeteries in Butler County, each one a symbol of service and sacrifice.
“It is awesome and it is a great thing to see wreaths placed at the headstones of deceased veterans,” said Vern Parker, of the El Dorado American Legion.
Wreaths Across America coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 1,600 locations across the United States, at sea and abroad.
The effort came to El Dorado almost by accident. Deborah Kellogg, a volunteer truck driver from Burns who grew up in Towanda, made a delivery a year ago to a small cemetery that made a mistake on their order.
Needing 50 wreaths, they ordered 50 boxes. When Kellogg inquired about what to do, she was asked if she had a place to go.
“I thought, why not go home,” Kellogg said.
That led to graves in El Dorado having wreaths placed upon them. The American Legion took notice and got involved in the effort for this year.
In 1992, Worcester Wreath company found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Remembering a boyhood experience at Arlington National Cemetery, company founder Morrill Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor veterans.
With the aid of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.
“They thought it would be a one-year deal, but then people saw it and it hit the newspapers,” Kellog said. “People started saying, ’We have to get a wreath for all of those headstones.' That was just gorgeous. That is where it started.”
According to the Wreaths Across America website, the annual tribute went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet. Suddenly, the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring our nation’s heroes.
Wreaths are now sent worldwide.
Parker would like to see similar growth with the Butler County project. This year 108 wreaths were laid in Butler County. There are, however, are more veterans to honor. Parker would like to see between 1,600 and 1,800 wreaths for Butler County.
Wreaths sponsored between now and Jan. 15 receive a sponsored match. Wreaths can be sponsored online for $15.
“We are looking for sponsorships so we can do between 1,600 and 1,800 here in El Dorado,” Parker said. “It will take a lot of work. We are getting into it heavy. We will be doing a lot of fundraisers here at the legion in El Dorado.”