Washington Grandmother Restores 600 Unkempt Military Headstones: ‘The People Aren’t Forgotten’

October 29, 2020 Updated: October 29, 2020

A small, overgrown Washington cemetery has become the site of one woman’s mission to honor the memory of lost loved ones.

Grandmother Kelly Mulvaney drives to Rochester’s Grand Mound Cemetery every day to clean gravestones for three hours at a minimum. Armed with buckets, a shovel, brushes, and a pair of gloves, she sets to work clearing dirt and overgrown grass, trimming edges, and scrubbing moss-covered stone.

She places a small American flag in the soil to mark each restored gravestone when she is done.

In the early days of the pandemic, Mulvaney started bringing her grandchildren for walks and bike rides in the peaceful cemetery. On Memorial Day, she and her granddaughter, Annika, noticed that many gravestones had something in common: they were in a state of neglect.

“I saw all the military headstones covered in mold and moss and mildew, and I’m like, those aren’t supposed to look like that,” Mulvaney told KGW8.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Kelly Mulvaney)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Kelly Mulvaney)

She sought permission from cemetery officials before setting out. Her own family members are buried elsewhere, in Yakima, so tending to the gravestones at Grand Mound is “kind of my way of being able to help other people in the same situation,” she explained.

Speaking to The Epoch Times via email, Mulvaney said that while she and Annika were first drawn to veterans’ headstones, she also cleans many that are not associated with the military. The industrious grandmother has cleaned almost 600 graves to date.

“I do have a couple ladies who help me, Trieste Markva and Pam Hudi-Caccamo,” she said, adding that others have come and gone, and many well-wishers have donated supplies.

In washing away years of overgrowth, Mulvaney is reinforcing connections between families and their loved ones. “The people aren’t forgotten,” she asserted, “but sometimes the headstones get old and covered with dirt and people can’t get here.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Kelly Mulvaney)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Kelly Mulvaney)

Mulvaney tracks her progress on Facebook in order to connect with the families of the deceased and those who wish to honor shared heritage, just as she does. She asks people to specify if they wish for a grave to be left alone, or if they wish for one to be tended to as a priority.

While Mulvaney’s handiwork is plain to see in the neatened appearance of the cemetery, her work on individual gravestones also means a lot to those whose loved ones rest at Grand Mound.

One is Crystal Hitchcock.

Hitchcock’s mother, Vickie McKinney, died in a car crash in 1989. “I actually have no memories of her,” Hitchcock told NBC. “A lot of people tell me that I look just like her … I am now older than my mom was. I hit that mark last October.”

Hitchcock brings her own daughters to visit her mother’s grave and called Mulvaney’s gesture “incredible,” adding, “I can’t believe that somebody would be kind enough to do that … for somebody else that they don’t even know.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Kelly Mulvaney)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Kelly Mulvaney)

Mulvaney is not paid to clean the graves, but for her, the satisfaction is in a job well done. She wants every veteran’s headstone to be cleaned in time for Memorial Day.

“I’ve just learned that death isn’t a bad thing,” she told Komo News 4. “It’s just a new beginning.”

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