Making space for those who served

Second veterans columbarium put in place in Riverview Cemetery

The sky was overcast and the air was cold when a small group of veterans, supporters, and workers gathered on the morning of Good Friday to place the second columbarium for veterans in place at Riverview Cemetery. 

The columbarium was covered in tarps on the back of a semi truck, with a crane from the John Bunning Transfer Co. nearby. Those standing by waited patiently while steel plates were brought in to put under the crane so it wouldn't sink into the dirt as it lifted the 18,000-pound columbarium. Small stacks of dry ice were placed on the concrete pad for the columbarium to be lowered on top of. This gave enough space and time to get the straps out from under the columbarium, which slowly settled into place as the dry ice melted. After it was lowered into place, all that was left was to remove the bright orange tape on the compartments. With that, years of work came to a completion. 

"It's a long time coming," Earl McDonald said as he peeled off a piece of tape. 

McDonald is the District Commander for the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2321, which spearheaded the effort to put two columbariums for veterans in Riverview Cemetery. 

McDonald explained that 12 years ago he was doing a funeral when he realized that they were running out of space. The VFW has a plot in the cemetery specifically for veterans, which was donated by the city of Green River in 1931. After almost a century, the plot has nearly filled up, partially due to the fact that plots have been used for cremains, which don't take up as much space but were still being given full plots. From that point, the VFW began to consider getting a columbarium, which is specifically used to store cremains while taking up less space and being able to hold more by having compartments for urns. 

"We tossed around the idea for quite a few years," McDonald said, adding that they started working on the project in earnest about three years ago. "Once we got going, it picked up momentum. Money was coming in fast." 

Star photo by Hannah Romero

VFW District Commander Earl McDonald peels tape off the new columbarium.

"In a short time a lot of people came together and made this happen," Tom Niemiec said. 

Niemiec is a member of both the VFW Post 2321 and the American Legion Tom Whitmore Post 28 in Green River, as are many of the people who worked on the columbarium project. Both organizations hosted fundraising events, and they had significant help and support from other local veterans groups. 

Others also rallied around the project as well, with individuals, organizations, and businesses giving donations. This included significant monetary donations from businesses such as Williams, as well as help from the City of Green River workers donating their time to put the columbarium in and Bunning donating the use of the crane. 

"That's basically a lot of people's gift to the community," Niemiec said of the columbarium. "We had to raise a lot of money for it. And we had so many sponsors, it was awesome." 

"We've got a good bunch of people here in this region," McDonald said, thankful for all the benefactors who made the project possible.  

Initially, $35,000 was raised to purchase one columbarium, which was put into place last year. It was clear that a second columbarium would be needed, and enough money had come in to make it possible. After purchasing the first, the VFW decided to move ahead with ordering the second columbarium right away in order to avoid prices going up. They paid $37,000 for the second one, which McDonald said was the right decision, because both prices and wait times due to backorders have increased over the last year. Ordering both columbariums close together allowed the VFW to save money and time. 

"I'm just glad that everything all came together," McDonald said. 

"It looks beautiful," Niemiec said, admiring the new columbarium in its spot across from the first. "It'll only grow from there," he added, pointing out that there are other plans to develop the area, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution planning to put in benches. 

As the VFW has been working to give more space for veterans in the cemetery, the City of Green River is also working on expanding the cemetery, as the available space is starting to run out. The City Council recently approved an agreement to work with a company on developing a master plan to be a strategic blueprint for the enhancement and development of the cemetery. 

For now, the new veterans columbariums create more space. They have 96 compartments each, creating 192 spots for veterans and their spouses. This option is also offered for free, and the first columbarium has already started being used. The VFW plans to have an official dedication ceremony for the new columbarium during their Memorial Day ceremony this year. 

 

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