In 2009, Matt Walker of Wright County, Minnesota had an idea. An ex-Police Officer, he had been a member of the Teamsters Trade Union, his branch being Teamsters Local 320 (union branches in the US are known as `locals`). He was involved with his local Labor Council ( I would guess this is roughly the equivalent of a Trades Council over here), which was looking for a community project it could be involved with.
Both Matt and his father, former marine Terry, were volunteers with the Kriedler Cemetery Association (KCA), a small non-profit organisation which cared for the local cemetery. The Walkers are descendants of Daniel Kriedler, a nineteenth century man whose family donated the land for the cemetery and who is buried there himself.
Matt suggested that the cemetery was in need of restoration and as a result, members of two local union branches, Boilermakers Local 647 and Cement Masons Local 633 spent a day repairing gravestones.
This year, the trade unionists returned to do more work. "I hadn`t really asked again and they got hold of me." said Matt.
The work they undertook was considerable.
"They used spades to dig up gravestones which were sinking into the ground, cleaned the stones, then placed the stones level inside wooden frames which they filled with concrete. The new concrete base will keep the stones above ground longer." said Steve Share, editor of Minneapolis Labor Review.
I`m grateful to Steve Share of Minneapolis Labor Review for agreeing to my use of his picture of trade unionist Ben Lewis (Boilermakers Local 647) restoring gravestones in Kriedler Cemetery.
Terry Walker described the work as "priceless", commenting that it "would be impossible " for the small-scale KCA to have achieved anything comparable.
Terry Walker told the volunteers about the history of the cemetery, indicating graves of those who fell in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War One and World War Two.
Refreshments were provided by Working Partnerships, a union-related body, and materials were provided by the Cement Masons union.
For me personally, I would like to see comparable intitiatives introduced over here.
I appreciate that many trade unionists are reluctant to undertake work that someone else might otherwise be paid to do ("stealing someone`s job"), but there are many voluntary groups who would be glad of the assistance in situations where there is no possibility of anyone being paid to do the work. I myself was a volunteer worker on a local nature reserve for a time, and the work we did would simply not have happened if we hadn`t been there.
The Wright County initiative involved a number of union members, many being apprentices and instructors, in work that benefited both them and the wider community, work which would otherwise have not been done at all.
It`s interesting also the enthusiasm they brought to the job ; one man who participated in both days (2009 and 2013) spoke of being "excited" to have the "opportunity" to go back again. Another who also volunteered on both days had actually completed his apprenticeship in the meantime and was now a skilled man. He was happy to be "giving back to the community" and felt that the project had other benefits ; "The Boilermakers have always been a strong trade as far as work ethic. This is part of our program to instill that in the apprentiees."
Terry Walker was keen to emphasise the heritage aspect ; "There`s so much history here. We should pay a little more attention to our history."
"A lot of these graves aren`t visited any more but they should still be remembered." commented Matt Walker.
***I don`t usually bother with quoting sources and all that malarkey, but just to make it clear, there`s no original material from me here, and I`ve relied heavily on articles by Steve Share of Minneapolis Labor Review and Doug Voerding of Wright County Journal Press. Any mistakes/misunderstandings are my own and not theirs.***
On the Web ;
Wright County Journal Press/The Drummer ; www.thedrummer.com
Minneapolis Labor Review ; http://www.minneapolisunions.org/cluc_labor_review.php
Working Partnerships ; http://workingpartnerships.org
If you liked this article, you might also like ;
Nick Osmond, `This Month`s Good Cause ; The Commonwealth War Graves Commission`, this blog, 13 Aug 2013
Nick Osmond, `War Memorials`, http://angpav.blogspot.com, 13 June 2012
Nick Osmond, `Thomas Richardson MBE of Bomber Command and Later a Trade Unionist`, this blog, 29 Nov 2009