Hundreds of volunteers are expected to turn out Saturday to place wreaths on the graves of veterans at Steele Cemetery in Falls City, Pawnee City Cemetery and seven other sites across Nebraska as part of the annual “Wreaths Across America” memorial event.
The program began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, Maine, worked with a U.S. senator and a local trucking company to take surplus Christmas wreaths to place on graves at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
It grew into a national event and expanded into a national program in the mid-2000s with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations.
That’s when Mary Blodgett of Elkhorn brought the program to Nebraska. She read about the wreaths at Arlington in Reader’s Digest and called the national organization to make a donation. Instead they asked her to start an organization here.
“He said, ‘We don’t have anyone in Omaha or in Nebraska who’s doing this,'” Blodgett recalled.
That seemed overwhelming because she had a full-time job and three little boys. But she also remembered her father had served in World War II and five brothers who also served in the military, three of them in Vietnam. She took it on, organizing and fundraising on her own.
“I’m a one-woman show,” Blodgett joked.
This is the 13th year. For the first 10 years, the ceremony and wreath-laying took place at historic Forest Lawn Cemetery, near Omaha’s Florence neighborhood. The event was moved after Omaha National Cemetery opened in 2016. This year, Blodgett has upped the number of wreaths to 1,350, from 700 last year.
“Every grave site will have a wreath,” she said. They will remain on the graves until Jan. 20.
The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m., but Blodgett recommends visitors arrive an hour early because of the large number of people expected to attend.
Tax-deductible donation checks may be made out to Wreaths Across America and mailed to Blodgett at 21768 Poppleton Ave., Elkhorn, NE 68022. Blodgett can also be reached at 402-980-1263, or MKBlodge@gmail.com. Donations may also be made online at WreathsAcrossAmerica.org.
All ceremonies are scheduled for 11 a.m.
ELWOOD: Elwood Cemetery, one mile northeast of town on Highway 283
FALLS CITY: Steele Cemetery, 65060 706 Trail
MAXWELL: Fort McPherson National Cemetery 12004 S Spur 56A
FREMONT: Fremont Memorial Cemetery, 800 West 23rd St.
GRAND ISLAND: Nebraska Veterans Home Chapel, 2300 W. Capital Ave.
LINCOLN: Wyuka Cemetery, 3600 O St. Enter off Vine Street. Take the first left and go straight ahead to the new Soldier’s Circle.
OMAHA:Omaha National Cemetery, 14250 Schram Road. Ceremony will be held on the assembly area of the cemetery in the center of the Loop Road. There will be volunteer representatives to further direct you. Travel and park only on paved surfaces.
PAWNEE CITY: Pawnee City Cemetery, 10th and B Streets
VALENTINE: Mount Hope Cemetery, southeast corner of town