Lahr’s 30 years on cemetery board includes raising gravestones

John Lahr has been a St. Paul’s Cemetery board member for nearly 30 years, spearheading an ongoing project to raise the cemetery’s sunken gravestones. With Memorial Day approaching, as both a veteran and a caretaker, Lahr appreciates it when people remember to pay their respects to fallen veterans and are mindful with the decorations they bring.

Lahr’s father, Leo Lahr, was a St. Paul’s Cemetery board member and passed away in 1990. A few years later, Lahr was asked to join the board. He had never been involved with work on the cemetery, but he accepted.

“At the time, the board didn’t have as much to do with it because Patton-Schad (Funeral & Cremation Services) took care of just about everything,” Lahr said. “We just hired somebody to do the lawn work, so it wasn’t a big job. It never has been, really.”

About five years ago, Lahr noticed some cemetery’s gravestones were sinking into the ground, and he wanted to do something to help them before they got neglected or lost.

“The first section we worked on … one time, we had to cut and pick the grass off,” Lahr said. “You could flip (the grass) over and read the stone in the grass roots. There were just a lot of stones that weren’t visible anymore, and I thought something should be done.”

Lahr enlisted the help of the local Knights of Columbus organization to which he belongs. Fellow knight Ken Gieske built a rig to mount to the front of a lawn tractor that could grip the sides of a gravestone and lift it up, and Gieske, Lahr and other knights have raised a couple of cemetery sections over the years.

After lifting a gravestone out of its hole, the crew fills it up with sand to the point that the stone will be about level with the ground when it is returned to its place.

“It works well for stones that aren’t really big or deep,” Lahr said. “With the deeper or thicker ones, it’s difficult to get in there and pick them up, but it’s a good rig for those that are four inches thick and settled down some.”

Lahr and other St. Paul’s Cemetery board members also pick up trash that blows into the cemetery, although the groundskeepers will sometimes get to it before they do.

Lahr was in the National Guard for six years, from 1965-71, and he is still a member of the Sauk Centre United Veterans Honor Guard. Some of the gravestones Lahr has raised have belonged to fellow veterans.

“As a veteran, I always like to honor those who have gone before us and give us the freedoms we have,” Lahr said. “On the honor guard, it puts a shiver down your back when the casket comes out with the flag draped over it. It’s something special. We get thanked for (being in the honor guard), but it’s an honor for us, as a squad, to give respect to fallen veterans.”

With Memorial Day coming up, Lahr reminds gravesite visitors to mind signage with the cemetery rules, particularly those concerning decorations.

“If people would put their names on the flowers or decorations, they could be put back if Mother Nature takes them off,” Lahr said. “Keep in mind the caretaker’s job of mowing; you’ve got all kinds of things on the ground.”

Lahr appreciates when people celebrate Memorial Day by remembering America’s fallen veterans.

“A lot of people nowadays look at Memorial Day as a three-day holiday,” Lahr said. “It should be more about honoring those who gave us the three-day holiday.”