Recognition and honor for deceased veterans. An award for three local Girl Scouts. An invaluable database boost for a Catholic parish.
All of these things came out of a chance encounter in a Palmyra cemetery two years ago. Shortly before Memorial Day in 2019, Girl Scouts River Sirianno, Morgan Adamson and Audrey Wimer and their troop leader, Sarah Wimer, were helping local Boy Scouts place flags next to veterans’ graves in Palmyra Cemetery. This cemetery adjoins St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, and the Girl Scouts inadvertently crossed over into St. Anne’s and continued their work there.
They soon met St. Anne’s caretaker, Dan Wilkins, who told them they’d strayed from Palmyra Cemetery, and remarked that he and his wife, Kathy Wilkins, usually placed flags next to the graves of veterans in the Catholic cemetery but hadn’t done so yet. River, Morgan and Audrey decided they wanted to share in this work of honoring the deceased veterans, especially as they’d been looking for a project to complete in order to earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, which is the second-highest award in Girl Scouts. Whereas the highest award — the Gold Award — recognizes the accomplishments of individual Girl Scouts and is roughly equivalent to the Eagle Scout Award in Boy Scouts, the Silver Award is given to a team of middle-school girls who identify and complete a project that benefits the community.
“The Silver Award is just as much work, but it’s divided among multiple girls,” Wimer explained.
Audrey, River and Morgan decided to focus their project on St. Anne’s Cemetery, where they not only put flags at veterans’ graves, but also purchased and installed special holders for those flags. These holders elevate the flags several inches, making them more visible, and also protect the flags from mower damage and the normal deterioration that comes from being in the ground, thus making each flag last longer, Wimer said.
The Scouts’ project hit a snag almost immediately, however, when they tried to determine how many flag holders they needed to purchase and realized the cemetery did not have a record of how many veterans are buried there, or where those graves are located. They conducted a physical audit of the entire cemetery and recorded pertinent information from every one of the nearly 2,500 graves, Wimer said.
“We had to go to the cemetery at least 10 times to do everything. It took two years because of the pandemic,” Morgan recalled.
“We realized there were a lot more veterans in the cemetery than we thought. There were almost 200,” Wimer added. “It was bigger than the girls thought it would be, but they pushed through. We were on a year hiatus because of the pandemic. The fact that they picked it back up and kept going was great.”
Wimer and the Scouts compiled all the information in an Excel spreadsheet and then began pricing flag holders, which were more expensive than they’d anticipated. They held a can and bottle drive to raise money and received grants from several civic organizations, but the majority of the costs were covered using money the troop had earned through Girl Scout cookie sales over the years, Wimer said.
Audrey, Morgan and River, who are now 14, purchased the flag holders and installed the holders and flags over the summer. The Scouts purchased plastic bins to store the holders during the winter months when they’re not in use. They took their project to the next level, however, by providing their electronic database to St. Katharine Drexel Parish, which operates St. Anne’s Cemetery, Kathy Wilkins said. The girls also printed out hard copies of the information, organized it in binders and gave the binders to the Wilkins so they can help people who may come to the cemetery searching for specific graves.
“They’ve actually printed out every single person in our cemetery by last name or by section. They’ve got maiden names in there, nicknames, date of birth, date of death,” Wilkins said. “I don’t know how to thank these three young women. This is just truly an amazing gift that they gave us.”
The desire on the part of the three girls, none of whom are Catholic, to help the parish honor its veterans is inspiring, remarked Mary Capone, finance director for Wayne County’s Catholic parishes.
The girls, meanwhile, said it’s been gratifying to know parishioners and community members appreciate their hard work.
“It felt good, because you hear stories on the news of how kids make a difference and stuff, but to actually be one of those kids, it felt really good,” Audrey said.