At 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, the Town of Niagara Lions and Lionesses will lay wreathes at Witmer Cemetery on the graves of the veterans buried there. They will honor the five branches of the military by displaying wreaths for them, as well. There are soldiers from each of the wars from 1812 on up through Korea.
Angelo Onevelo, one of the Lions who will be in attendance, credited Michal Hoplight for pushing the event to the group.
“This will be an annual event,” Onevelo said. “Wreathes Across America has been going on for eight years. There’s 1,600 sites across the United States; all people participating in putting wreaths on gravestones for veterans. And now, we’re going to be on board with our (wreaths) every year.”
While the national movement of Wreaths Across America does accept donations at its website, www.wreathsacrossamrica.org – where those interested can sponsor a wreath – Onevelo said the Town of Niagara Lions would be paying for the wreaths laid out in Witmer Cemetery.
Witmer Cemetery began as a family cemetery on the homestead farm of Abraham Witmer, the second pioneer of the Town of Niagara. He settled there in 1811 and established his farm on lot 24. The first known burial was John M. Vogt, son of George and Matilda Vogt, in 1819. Over the years, the burial site was known by many names, such as Homestead, Witmer, Lieb, Collins and Rural, depending on who owned it at the time. In 1875, an association was formed and into the 1970s when the cemetery was virtually abandoned, according to Terry Lasher who researched the history of Witmer Cemetery in 1985.
In 1985, a group led by then Town of Niagara Historian Dorothy Rolling, along with a small group of volunteers, cleaned it up and did a headstone reading. The original records had long since disappeared, so the reading could be used in conjunction with a family plot map from the 1870s to find persons buried there. The Town of Niagara Parks Department has maintained it, though some of the older stones have fallen over the years. The current town historian, Pete Ames, said he hopes to spearhead an effort to re-erect those stones and see that the stone pillars at the front gates get restored. They, too, are showing their age and are in danger of collapsing if they aren’t dealt with.
One of the stones is that of an African American Civil War veteran who died in 1924 and was buried in Witmer Cemetery and whose gravestone has been broken. The Town of Niagara Lions hope to remedy this situation and honor the man. John Teixeira is leading the project.
“It’s all based on remembrance,” Onevelo said. “Remembrance and teaching. We want people who have served to know they’ll always be remembered.”
The wreath laying will be done to honor the 12 veterans and their military service. The public is invited to attend. Refreshments will be served at the Town of Niagara Community Center at 7000 Lockport Road from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. after the short ceremony at 11 am. The cemetery is located next to Armand Cerrone’s business at Witmer and Pennsylvania avenues.