Cemetery caretakers take pride in their work

All Souls Day, a day to remember the dead, is Nov. 2

PULASKI — Blustery fall days have kept volunteers at Assumption BVM Cemetery in Pulaski busier than usual this year.

“It’s been so windy lately we’ve been picking up flowers from all over the place,” said Lon Bartelt. “You’ll pick up flowers that might be right next to a monument, but they could be from some other grave who knows where.”

Volunteers help maintain the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish cemetery in Pulaski. From left to right: Bob Weed, Don Murdzek, Richard Styczynski, Lon Bartelt, Ron Banaszynski and Gerald Folk. Not pictured is Gil Nowak. (Bob Zyskowski | For The Compass)

Bartelt, 83, is one of several members of the parish cemetery committee who regularly drive through the graveyard keeping an eye out so it looks its best.

The cemetery is a block west and a block north of the towering steeple of Assumption BVM Church at the center of town in Pulaski,

Bartelt and others like Bob Weed and Gil Nowak gather fallen branches, pick up trash the wind has blown in, and replace the mostly artificial flowers with which loved ones have decorated graves.

But that’s just the cosmetic portion of cemetery committee work.

Committee members sell lots, keep records, mark off the sites when there is a burial, and are on hand at interments to help in any way they might be needed, noted volunteer Don Murdzek. “All of us do maintenance work. Why do we do it? Because all the guys who take care of the cemetery are dedicated.”

Bartelt, who has been at it for 19 years, remembered taking on the responsibility for the parish cemetery.

“When I started they gave me a cardboard box and a safe,” he said. With those records as a foundation, he was able to build up a binder for each of the eight-sections of the cemetery. “There’s a map of each individual lot,” Bartelt said, “plus a diagram of who’s buried there or who owns the lot.”

Bartelt drew up the maps, and Murdzek created them on a computer. Murdzek said the graveyard holds more than 3,380 burial plots, and there is space now for cremated remains, too.

Gerald Folk and Mike Mornacha deserve credit for Assumption continuing to have a cemetery and one that’s as beautifully kept up as it is. Back in 1973, the pair convinced their pastor that the cemetery needed continued funding to be run properly.

“There was no money to operate and care for the cemetery at the time,” recalled Folk, who’s been active for 45 years. “I remember the date we started the perpetual care fund, Oct. 1, 1973. I was a bookkeeper my whole life. I paid all the bills and invested the money. The fund did pretty well over the years. We’ve about $200,000 in (the endowment-like fund). Donnie Murdzek watches over it now.”

As he does his regular drive-through at the cemetery, Bartelt said he’ll often see the same people who stop to visit the graves and pray. “They plant flowers in the spring and water them every day in the summer.” It’s for those people, he said, he wants Assumption BVM. Cemetery to always look nice.

“It’s important to them to have the cemetery picked up because their husband or wife or parents are here,” he added. “Some people stop and say thank you to us. That makes you feel good, that what you’re doing is important.”

Weed sees care of Assumption cemetery as even more important for the predominantly ethnic Polish area.

“It’s a reflection of the whole community as well as the church that the cemetery be cared for,” he said.

Folk, the committee treasurer agreed. “That’s the Polish heritage. If they’d see a messy cemetery, you’d never hear the end of it.”