When cemetery maintenance was cut, citizens stepped up

Darlene Galambush places a flag at a recently mown plot in Cordova Cemetery. (July 4, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

In preparation for the traditional July Fourth flag-placing, volunteers assembled to give Cordova Cemetery a much-needed sprucing up.

Wendy Ranney, president of Cordova’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, drove by the cemetery on June 30 and was surprised to find it had not recently been cleaned up. Overgrown grass would make it harder to see headstones when placing flags on the graves of the over 80 veterans interred at Cordova’s cemeteries, Ranney said.

“I just was disappointed that this is how we respect our elders,” she said.

From 2020-2021, the city of Cordova reduced funding for cemetery maintenance by 71%. Cemetery maintenance was one of many areas — including law enforcement, street maintenance, and recreation — where funding was cut in 2021, as Cordova struggled to devise a budget compensating for diminished revenues and state assistance. The city’s budget for cemetery maintenance had increased steadily over the prior four years, from $6,646 in 2017 to $20,537 in 2020, before being reduced to $6,000 in 2021.

A headstone at Cordova Cemetery. (July 4, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

When Ranney published a post on Facebook expressing her dissatisfaction with the city, community members responded with offers to help. Among them was Cordova Historical Museum archivist Ira Grindle, who spent about six hours trimming and raking weeds over the course of two days.

“It was an eye-opener for me,” Grindle said. “You think it’s pretty easy weed-wacking, but, about an hour in, you’re saying, ‘Whoa!'”

Around 10 volunteers gathered at the cemetery with rakes and weed trimmers, collecting enough grass and debris to fill 10 garbage bags ahead of July Fourth.

“The community never ceases to amaze me,” Ranney said. “Cordova’s done a beautiful thing.”

June 22, volunteers organized by the Eyak Corporation conducted an unrelated cleanup of Cordova’s Pioneer Cemetery. The annual event had been canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.