What a lesson in service for a group of young people already committed and used to serving others — helping to maintain a cemetery where veterans are buried.
The JROTC cadets from Viera High School spent a recent Saturday morning cleaning, cutting bushes and making sure the cemetery was in good order.
The cadets, along with others — the American Legion Post 191, Leonard Ross and other community leaders and groups — joined in the work at the J. N. Tucker Memorial Shady Oaks Cemetery.
There are about 35 veterans buried in the cemetery that was established in the early 1900s.
I know there might be many other who participated in this most recent cleanup and maintenance of the cemetery and some before, but I wanted to tell you specifically about these Junior Reserve Officer Training cadets from Viera High School.
They deserve your recognition because not many would want to give up a day off from school to work in a cemetery. They could be out doing something else with their Saturday.
“They love doing it,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Tim Thomas, the senior JROTC instructor. “They are making these cemeteries aesthetically better to honor the veterans buried there.”
Thomas said it is the type of work that builds intangible values that we look for in leaders — empathy and compassion.
If you travel on U.S. 1 south of Post Road, you have passed the cemetery that once was in bad shape with overgrown weeds and growing neglect.
After the condition of the cemetery was brought to the attention of former San Diego Chargers fullback, Bruce Rothschild, the sprucing up began. Rothschild established Veteran Cemetery Restoration to take care of Shady Oaks and J. S. Stone Memorial Cemetery in Melbourne, both over 100 years old. He said that through the years he has learned a lot about the history of some of the people buried there.
About 85 people, including the cadets, showed up to the workday at Shady Oaks Cemetery.
“We had some wonderful volunteers,” Rothschild said. “We really like to engage the younger crowd. I like to tell them the history.”
Shady Oaks was established by African American settlers in the early 1900s. Stone also was established by African American pioneers in the early 1900s.
Veterans Cemetery Restorations, a nonprofit organization created to maintain the two cemeteries, conducts periodic cleanups and maintenance of the gravesites.