CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Last year viewers reached out to TV-9 concerned about the condition of the historic Czech National Cemetery. Graves sinking, trees on the ground, and overgrown grass were just some of the complaints we heard about. The cemetery relies on volunteers and donations to keep the grounds maintained and while issues still remain today, there are some putting in lots of time trying to make it better.
Volunteers work to improve the Czech National Cemetery in Cedar Rapids in July 2017. (Randy Dircks, KCRG-TV9)
Just ask groundskeepers Barb and Frank Edmunds, a husband and wife who for the better part of 15 years have managed the 150 year old final resting place. But what Barb and Frank say they spend much of their time putting to rest, however, isn’t what you may expect. Often its concerns people raise about the grounds.
"We haven’t had to many people want to come in and help, we’ve had them complain but not help," said Frank.
In fact, some people have been so upset in the past they’ve even come by the office to air their grievances. But over on Wilson Avenue it was about a year ago a man felt so compelled to say something he knocked right on the door. His name is Mike and he is a neighbor who was tired of looking at a pink head stone that fell over. So tired, he offered to fix it himself.
"So he came and talked to us and we said wonderful the stone is to big for Frank and I to be able to handle so see what you can do," said Barbara.
What Mike did was load some tools in his truck and enlist the help of his friend John Bilsand. Over the next two weeks, the two buddies then got to work.
"Made it look good, took our picture with it and that was it," said Mike.
By the way, this was the first time either had ever attempted to repair a head stone.
"Once you get in a swing its actually relatively easy," said John.
It must be easy because after the project was completed they thought they’d fix another problem stone. When that job was done, they did another and then another, and another, and you guessed it, another one after that. In all, Mike and John estimate they’ve repaired more than 2,000 head stones to date.
"We don’t keep track," said Mike.
"I think it’s a godsend," said Frank.
A godsend for those like Barbara and Frank who have family buried at the cemetery but that’s Not the case for Mike or John. Well, at least it wasn’t. You see, the first headstone Mike and John discovered has the name, "Mary" on it. Mike discovered this fact on his wife's birthday who as fate would have it is named also named Mary. With the revelation Mike and John have taken it upon themselves to make sure Mary gets extra care.
"We tried to find relatives of her and nobody knew nothing about her so we decided well we’ll take her in as our family you know," said Mike.
We may not know what happens when you die but heaven knows, there is a special place for people like Mike and John.
"It is the right thing to do, what else can you say. You got to look for the gold star. I want to be in heaven some day you know," said Mike.