Girl’s best friend: lawnmowers

Column By LilyWeindel

As someone who had never used a lawnmower in her 18 years of life and gets paranoid when passing by a graveyard on her route to school, spending a whole week mowing an abandoned cemetery was definitely not my vibe. My original doubts were prevalent that week and it didn’t take long to discover that I was not in shape for gruesome physical labor. (I estimate I pushed a walk-behind trimmer more than 25 miles.) But I realized my anxieties were not needed. This 32-acre cemetery held a whole lot more love than I realized.

I was lucky enough to travel through Young Neighbors in Action, a Catholic service organization that Marian participated in this summer, with seven current and alum students. About half of the Marian group went through Marian itself, and some girls came through St. Pius/St. Leo Parish, but we spent the week all together with math teacher Jamie Piernicky as our chaperone. The program offers different weeks of service in locations all around the country, including St. Louis, Mo., which I attended.

Young Neighbors in Action Service Group • Seniors Lily Weindel, Grace Olsen and Lauren Zadalis pose for a picture in the hot Saint Louis heat. They were working with another parish group from Chicago on this day to clear out the cemetery. Photo courtesy of Jamie Piernicky. 

This program took place in the middle of July. I was placed at a service site with other from northwestern Iowa and Chicago. We were assigned to do some pretty heavy manual labor, such as mowing, weeding and raking. It was a blast. I did some things that most people will never be able to do in their lifetime at a cemetery: I cartwheeled, sang “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, ate donuts and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches next to gravestones and learned a shocking amount about positivity from the duo who currently manage Greenwood Cemetery. 

Shelly and Rapheal Morris, who are everything from groundskeeper to treasury to president, have devoted their time to keeping up a 145-year-old cemetery. This cemetery had a time where it was abandoned for multiple years, and due to limited support from surrounding municipalities, it became overgrown to the point where parts seem more like a forest than a cemetery. Parts have been reclaimed in recent years, though. But despite the weeds, Midwestern heat and never ending growth of grass, this couple was constantly working, constantly caring for this plot of land that not only improved the aesthetic of the neighborhood, but also the lives of those who had loved ones buried there.

Cemetery Upkeep • Marian girls pose with cemetery volunteers Shelly and Rapheal Morris. The couple has been working tirelessly to keep the cemetery in shape to preserve its history. Photo courtesy of Jamie Piernicky. 

No amount of TEDtalks or motivational posters could change my attitude the way that these two did. This couple had devoted their life to selfless work out of passion for this cemetery. All of a sudden, pushing a lawn mower for six hours a day seemed more of a labor of love than just a sweaty duty to undergo. Seeing the progress we made throughout the week was outstanding; the plots of land getting cleaned up and headstones reappearing out of the ground was oddly inspiring. Every day I was uber-excited to put on work gloves, douse myself in absurd amounts of bug spray and sweat through my shirt. After all, we had showers, so what could a bit (or a lot) of dirt do to us when we had such enthusiastic mindsets? I learned more about positivity, love and lawnmowers than I thought was possible.

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