Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery beautification driven by volunteers

Two American flags fly over headstones of members of the armed forces at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood on Saturday, July 29.

Joliet — Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood will receive an influx of restoration work Wednesday thanks to a group of volunteers.

Each year in September, Saluting Branches coordinates a national cleanup of 100 veterans cemeteries across the country by enlisting the help of arborists and landscapers. This is the ninth year the event has taken place since it was started by Rainbow Tree Co. in Minnetonka, Minnesota, which was looking for ideas for a community service project.

Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery has been involved in the effort since the beginning thanks to the efforts of Joliet city arborist Jim Teiber, who has served as the site manager for the Will County project for seven of its nine years.

“We’ve got a lot of volunteers, and we’ve got a lot of machines being provided by the contractors, which means we can get a lot done in a short period of time.”

—  Jim Teiber, arborist for the city of Joliet

Teiber is expecting between 70 and 100 volunteers to come out for the 2023 event.

“We’ve got a lot of volunteers, and we’ve got a lot of machines being provided by the contractors, which means we can get a lot done in a short period of time,” Teiber said.

One of the big projects the team will tackle during the maintenance spree is removing several large, dying oak trees from along the cemetery’s main road using a crane, and planting 11 new trees that were donated by the Fields on Caton Farm Nursery and Cedar Path Nursery.

In addition to the large-scale removal and planting, the team will work to clear out any problematic deadwood from remaining trees, clean up the areas around graves, remove unwanted brush and invasive plants from the cemetery’s Memorial Walkway, and plant new flowers in the area.

“The Memorial Walkway is one of the most visited areas of the cemetery for families,” Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery’s head gardener Jason Grizzle said. “We have a lot of monuments and benches there and our scatter garden for ashes, so we want it to look more like a park than a forest.

“These volunteers really know what they’re doing, and they’re great for the cemetery. Without them, it wouldn’t look as good as it does.”

Teiber estimated that the team of volunteers will do more than $30,000 worth of work in one day with the plantings and tree removals, since the oaks are more than 100 years old and very large.

Most of the volunteers are arborists and workers from local landscaping and tree removal companies. People without training also are welcome to volunteer for less-intensive positions, although registration for the event is preferred.

During the event, volunteers are provided with lunch, which this year is being sponsored by D’Arcy Motors and provided by Wyler BBQ. Wyler BBQ is known for providing concessions at the Joliet Slammers games.

“Our organization is all about beautifying land dedicated to veterans, and cemeteries hold a special place in the hearts of veterans and their families,” said Babette Hurt, Saluting Branches board assistant and Logistics Committee member. “We’re very grateful for all our national sponsors and volunteers.”

“They’re really doing us and the veterans a solid,” Grizzle said. “Some of those trees need to be removed for visitor safety, and they would cost [$7,000 or $8,000] each to take out. They need to happen, and this group gets more done in one day than we could normally do in years.”