Kay Lantow & Linda Nicholson
Saturday morning, December 17, 2016, fifty-seven SaddleBrooke Ranch residents traveled to Tucson’s Evergreen Cemetery to participate in the National Wreaths Across America.
Since 2014, when only ten volunteers braved the cold and rainy weather, Linda Nicholson and Kay Lantow have encouraged SBR residents to donate time and money to this cause. Through Facebook and NextDoor postings, plus fundraising events, SBR residents helped increase wreath donations to 1,306 wreaths from mere 750 wreaths donated that first year.
Beginning at 10:00 a.m., American Gold Star Mother Sheron Jones stood at the podium. Before her, a crowd of volunteers nestled against the cold breeze under the shelter of a white tent. Two dozen Patriot Riders strolled across the dirt lot behind the podium, each carrying an American Flag. As the drummers played, the Sons of the American Revolution marched behind the Color Guard. As the flags were posted, a musket salute sounded across the field and Sheron turned to salute. Mark Thomas, CW3 (ret.), stepped to the podium and provided a beautiful a cappella rendition of our National Anthem.
Thus began Tucson’s annual ceremony of Wreaths Across America. Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, first provided Christmas wreaths for the graves of veterans at the Arlington Cemetery in 1992. Responding to thousands of emails and letters, Worcester expanded wreath donations nationwide. Assisted by Civil Air Patrol and other volunteers, ceremonies were held at hundreds of locations from Alaska to Iraq.
By 2007, with numerous requests, Worcester reached out to the community for help, forming the nonprofit group, Wreaths Across America. By 2013, with the help of volunteers and corporations, 540,000 wreaths were donated and placed at over 900 participating locations. This year, 250,000 wreaths were donated to Arlington, affording a wreath for every grave at that sacred cemetery.
Sheron Jones, President of American Gold Star Mothers in Tucson, each year organizes the event in southern Arizona. Kay met Sheron in 2014 when she spoke at a woman’s luncheon in Oro Valley, seeking volunteers and contributions for the 15,000 plus Veterans’ graves in the Tucson area.
Following several speakers this year, including United States Congresswoman Martha McSally, Onita Davis of the American Legion, read “What is a Veteran Wreath,” describing the significance of each part of the Worchester Wreath Company design.
At the end of the ceremony, Sheron directed the volunteers to several areas of the cemetery where we found cardboard boxes holding the donated wreaths. Our Troopers lined up with other volunteers, looping the beautiful, bow adorned evergreen wreaths over their arms and headed across the cemetery to locate the grave markings of veterans. Before laying the wreath across the veteran’s nameplate, each volunteer honored this year’s slogan, ‘Say Their Names,’ by reciting the veteran’s name and offering a prayer.
Although volunteers raised enough money for over a thousand wreaths this year, too many of our veterans’ graves remained without being honored with the Worcester Veterans’ Wreath. Linda and Kay will continue their efforts throughout 2017, tapping the patriotism and generosity of Saddlebrooke Ranch residents.
For more information visit: www.wreathsacross america.org.