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Volunteers decorate every grave in Carbon, Emery counties

Published: Monday, May 27 2013 11:55 a.m. MDT

A student from Pinnacle Canyon Academy places a plastic flower on a grave Friday, May 24, 2013, in the Price Cemetery as part of the No Grave Unadorned project. The project, now in its fourth year, uses volunteers to ensure that each grave in Carbon and Emery counties is decorated with at least one flower for Memorial Day.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

PRICE — When Rick Shaw was a kid, Memorial Day meant one thing.

"My parents took me out and we decorated graves all over the place," he recalled.

But as Shaw got older, he realized something had changed.

"Ten years ago when I was a reporter for (the Sun Advocate), I started covering all the Memorial Day activities and, as I did that, I noticed how many graves were not decorated," he said.

Shaw is now the publisher of the Sun Advocate and its sister paper, the Emery County Progress. Four years ago he sat down with his staff to figure out a way to revive the community's observance of Memorial Day.

The solution? Recruit an army of volunteers, make thousands of small flowers out of wire and squares cut from plastic tablecloths, and then plant at least one of those flowers on every grave in Carbon County.

"The concerns were, when we started advertising it in our newspaper, that we weren't going to have enough people to cover everything or make enough flowers," Shaw said. "The support was overwhelming."

The annual service project — dubbed No Grave Unadorned — has since bloomed into Emery County, bringing the total number of graves covered to about 40,000, each decorated with a plastic flower made and placed by a volunteer.

"The passion that's involved with this really amazes me," Shaw said. "We even have people getting upset because the area they wanted to decorate, people have already decorated."

Students from Pinnacle Canyon Academy in Price made 750 flowers this year and placed them Friday on graves in the city cemetery.

For at least one student, the service project was personal.

"This is my uncle, Ruben," eighth-grader Kylie Chambers said, sitting beside a headstone engraved with Ruben Bera's name, a miner's hardhat and a snowmobile.

"He was a miner and a Marine. He fought in Korea," she said, before becoming emotional. "This is the first time I've seen his headstone since we came up and did the burial."

Chambers called the opportunity to place flowers on graves that otherwise might remain bare on Memorial Day "really special."

"It feels good to come out and help out the families who can't do this," she said.

The project isn't confined solely to municipal cemeteries, Shaw said.

The manager of the KeyBank branch in Price placed flowers on three pioneer graves that rest just off the No. 11 fairway of the golf course at the Carbon Country Club. Volunteers also make flowers each year for placement on smaller, family cemeteries that may not be decorated for one reason or another, Shaw said.

"The community has really adopted this project as their own," he said.

Shaw sees the project, not only as a way for people to commemorate the dead, but as a way for them make a connection with the community's past.

"Watch these kids here particularly," he said, pointing to the Pinnacle Canyon students moving from grave to grave with their bags of plastic flowers.

"They look at the gravestones and they go, 'Hey, that guy was born in 1860.' It's a history lesson for them," Shaw said. "It makes them respect the fact that there were a lot of people that brought this community to where it is today."

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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