DANVILLE — Tawne Hedges spends a lot of time in cemeteries, or as she calls them, “outdoor museums.” She and husband, Erik, have a mowing business that maintains several cemeteries in southwestern Vermilion County. She also feels like it is her calling.
That’s why the couple has started a not-for-profit corporation to restore tombstones at cemeteries throughout the area. To get things started on that project, a number of raffles have been planned. The first drawing will be April 26.
Two mowers will be given away in that first raffle. One is a big 52-inch zero turn riding model by Scag, and another is a Toro Walk Behind.
“We had thought about doing restoration as a business, but we soon realized that most cemeteries just don’t have the money available to cover the full cost of repairing and setting stones upright,” Hedges said. “So we’re thinking of ways to generate more money to help get the job done, and keep from losing more of the history of these past generations.”
In graveyards across the country, some of the old stones are victims of time and the elements, while others have been damaged by vandals.
This new enterprise, Hedges Stone Restoration, is quickly approaching the 200-stone repair mark in the oldest section of Mount Vernon Cemetery west of Catlin. Erik Hedges said they have dug up some stones that were completely covered and several inches underground.
“Until we started searching and digging, we actually thought that the graves were unmarked. Finding a stone that deep means that it may have been missing for decades or even a century,” he said.
During the project at Mount Vernon, they’ve put stones back up for veterans of various wars, children and families.
Each stone seems to have its own story to tell. The most bittersweet moment for the Hedgeses and their team members thus far was finding an old stone that was bottom-side up in the ground. It contained the names of five children of one family.