×

In every stone a story

One man wants stories of the departed to shine

Gerald Yankie makes it a practice to visit the cemetery to clean headstones that have collected moss and mold over the years. He focuses his work on military veterans’ graves because of the respect he has for them.

ALPENA — Most everyone wants to be remembered when they pass away.

Some people want their legacies to be preserved, accomplishments shared, and stories told long after they are gone from the earth.

When you visit a cemetery, lines of gravestones and burial monuments do just that. Some are meager and physically unimpressive, but with powerful messages. Others are elaborate, carefully crafted, and descriptive in its information about the life of the deceased.

Some are longer than others, but each as important as the next.

At the Evergreen and Holy Cross cemeteries in Alpena, thousands of gravestones that cover generations. There are entire families buried together and sole plots with one body.

Grave monuments come in many different sizes and styles. Some have statues or figures on them, while others are more basic, with just a simple stone with names and dates on them.

Each has a story, but not all get to share it.

Mary Haverty, owner of Crow Memorials in Alpena, said there is no doubt in her mind that most people want to be remembered after they die. She attributes that belief to the number of people who select, design, and pay for their grave memorial in advance of their deaths. She said that allows them to customize it and share with others what they choose.

“Memorial and monuments encompass many different things and are very personal,” she said. “They come in many different shapes, sizes and materials. They are really works of art that come in every color of the rainbow, but they also give you snippets of information about the person. Some just have the date of birth and death, while others are much more elaborate. Today, we can do pretty much anything you want in designing memorials.”

Grave memorials also are tributes to those who have served in the military and often, veterans are honored with flags, insignias from their branch of service, and their rank.

Over the decades, however, gravestones begin to get miscolored, coated with moss or mildew, and become somewhat unsightly.

In Greenview Cemetery, William Comstock is buried and honored with a large monument. Comstock was born in Alpena and served as mayor from 1913 to 1914. He later went on to be governor of Michigan.

An Alpena man named Gerald Yankie has taken it upon himself to spruce up the tarnished headstones — many of which date back well into the 1800s — as a show of respect for veterans and others whose memorials are beginning to show wear.

Yankie said he is tasked with maintaining about 20 headstones for some friends and family. Besides that work, he also seeks out graves where veterans are buried and gives tender loving care to their memorials, if needed.

Yankie said it isn’t difficult to clean the stones. Once they are clean, they remain that way for many years.

Yankie uses a simple tools, such as plastic bristle brushes, a small metal putty knife to work in crevices, and a chemical diluted with water called Wet and Forget. He said he soaks the stone, carefully scrubs it, and allows the chemical to work for a day or so before returning and rinsing it off. He said it takes several trips to the cemetery to get the stone to look as good as possible, but, once done, they look almost like new.

Yankie said he does the work because he feels he owes those who were here before him respect and wants their memorials to look as pristine as possible.

A grave marker cleaned by Gerald Yankie looks in near-new condition. Yankie said the cleaning process is simple and he wishes others would volunteer to spruce up unkept grave memorials.

“The reason these are put here is to remember these individuals and it is the respect of these people that led me to begin doing this,” Yankie said. “I would like to see it done in more cemeteries. This isn’t something that needs to be done often, because, in most of these cases, it took almost 80 to 100 years to get into this condition.”

Haverty said there are many people who like to stroll or walk their dog through the cemetery to look at the uniqueness of some of the memorials or to learn more about those who are buried there. She said there are pamphlets available to highlight points of interest in Evergreen Cemetery.

“It is actually quite fascinating to just walk and see the artwork and detail of many of the memorials,” she said. “It also gives you a better understanding of the people who have passed and what their loves and passions were. It is pretty remarkable what you can learn about someone just from what they have on their memorial.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

Crow Memorials owner Mary Haverty shows off a pair of the grave monuments for sale in the store. She said people can have custom memorials made that can share as much or little about themselves as they wish.

There are many unique grave monuments at the cemeteries in Alpena. Some are large and others small, while others are elaborate or meek. Families can be buried near one another, or a lone individual by themselves.