Monday, May 30, 2016

A Town In Vermont Remembers Veterans, A Cemetery And My Dad

The Whipple Hollow Cemetery in West Rutland, Vermont
looking immaculate thanks to the hard work of many
town residents. Thanks to Ken and Jean Heleba for photo.  
Years ago, my dad, Red Sutkoski, restored an old cemetery in a remote corner of his hometown of West Rutland, Vermont.

He loved his projects, and the outdoors, so he spent a lot of time at the cemetery, clearing TONS of brush, trying to prop up old gravestones, planting flowers and erecting a flag pole at the Whipple Hollow Cemetery.

It was a huge project. People stepped forward to help him by excavating rocks and debris, donating flowers, and doing whatever it took to make the cemetery whole again.

Red's project - and the town's great help with it - caused quite a little stir, garnering publicity from the Associated Press and the Boston Globe, among others.  Dad had a great sense of history, and remembering the dead was important to him.

He thought that we all build on the shoulders of the people who came before him and us, so we need to honor everyone who came before us, and remember the contributions they made. ,

Now dad has passed on, having slipped away at the age of 95 back in January.

A couple months after dad died, I stopped by the Whipple Hollow Cemetery. People had been trying to take care of it the best they could. Somebody had been mowing the grass. Some weeds had been pulled here and there.

But Red in his later years couldn't handle the big jobs. The woods was beginning to encroach again into the grave sites, wild grapevine was attacking everything at the cemetery and tall weeds rattled against the gravestones in the cold March wind.

The Whipple Hollow Cemetery was beginning to look sad again.

My dad, Red Sutkoski, at the West Rutland
World War II Memorial unveiling last August 
April 24, which would have been my dad's 96th birthday, was a sunny, pleasantly cool day. Me, my siblings, our husbands and partners and nephews, I think there were eight of us, went to the Whipple Hollow Cemetery to do a needed cleanup.

We got a lot done. We removed piles of broken branches and grapevine and stuffed it into the woods, hiding the mess. We raked away tons of leaves and weeds. We didn't get the whole cemetery done, but it definitely looked better.

And Red was smiling down on us. Because the cemetery he'd worked on brought the family together that day.

We laughed and enjoyed ourselves as we worked and visited and joked with each other as we cleaned up the cemetery on that bright April afternoon.

It's exactly what Red would have wanted on his birthday.

Come to find out the whole town of West Rutland, it seems, is also thinking about the Whipple Hollow Cemetery.

Forgive me, here, because I don't know the names of most of the people who have been helping, but I do know the town has the cemetery's back. And the backs of all those who came before them.

I know Stanley Dziubek has been up there at Whipple Hollow, clearing a LOT of brush and grapevine that we missed earlier, and doing a ton of other work. My sister Laurie tells me a nice woman in West Rutland who has donated flowers to dad for the Whipple Hollow Cemetery in the past, has done so again.

People raised a flag on the cemetery flag poll, and planted American flags at gravesites.

Today is Memorial Day, when we remember the veterans who served our country and thank them for their incredible service (Red was a veteran, too!)

People from West Rutland have been called "Stone peggers," a legacy of marble quarry labor riots back in the 1930s.

Metaphorically, West Rutlanders have been embracing the grave stones at Whipple Hollow Cemetery.  They remember the importance of the past, and the people who lived in those days.

Like my dad, Westsiders know they've built their lives on the shoulders who came before them, like those buried back in the 19th century in this cemetery.

They're remembering the veterans who served. They're remember my dad, which is an honor for the Sutkoski family. They're remembering the people who built West Rutland, They're honoring the way people in this rugged little town help each other out, and honor memories.

Want more proof? Just check out the amazing World War II memorial in front of the West Rutland Town Hall. That was another major community-wide undertaking that drew in the whole town.

The unveiling of that memorial last August was one of the final  public events my father went to, and as a World War II veteran, he told me how humbled and proud he was of the way West Rutland remembered its veterans.

I guess you could call the warmth and giving and remembrance as seen at the Whipple Hollow Cemetery a new form of being a "stone pegger."

I'm proud to be a West Rutland Stonepegger.

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