Avenue of Flags honors military veterans at Bluff City Cemetery
By Denise Moran For The Courier-News May 24, 2012 3:20PM
Marvin Schmidt, former Bluff City Cemetery superintendent
Bluff City Memorial Day
At 11 a.m. Monday there will be a service at Bluff City Cemetery, 945 Bluff City Blvd., as part of Elgin’s Memorial Day ceremonies. A free shuttle bus will pick up riders at the main gate and east gate before and after the service for transportation to and from the ceremony area. For more on the city’s Memorial Day activities, visit www.elginmemorialday.org.
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:11AM
ELGIN — For the past 44 years, the Avenue of Flags has paid a Memorial Day tribute to the military veterans who are buried at Bluff City Cemetery.
The annual tradition was started by former Bluff City Cemetery Superintendent Marvin Schmidt in 1968.
Schmidt, 94, has a number of family members who have served in the military. “My dad, Frederick, served in the 65th K Infantry during World War I,” Schmidt said. “My brother, Clayton, served during World War II. My son, Leonard, was a mechanical engineer serving in Germany during the time of the Vietnam War. I also have three brothers-in-law who served in Vietnam.”
Schmidt was born on Aug. 24, 1918, at Sherman Hospital in Elgin. In 1933 at the age of 15, Schmidt quit school and went into dairy farming. In 1955, left the dairy farming business and started working at Bluff City Cemetery.
The 108-acre, nonsectarian cemetery was established in 1889. It is owned by the city of Elgin. “The city manager told me he wanted a farmer for the cemetery superintendent because farmers can tolerate cold weather,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt brought a number of changes to the cemetery when he became the superintendent.
“They used stakes to mark graves as either perpetual or seasonal,” Schmidt said. “The perpetual graves received more care than the seasonal ones. I said we should mow the grass on every grave and trim around every stone. There was a group of high school and college boys who mowed the lawn from the time they got out of school until dark. There were also six retired men who worked as trimmers.”
Schmidt noted that “they used to use this cemetery as a dumping ground. There was also a police shooting gallery at the back of the cemetery. I changed that.”
In 1968, Schmidt wanted to bring back the true meaning of Memorial Day.
He noted that “back at the turn of the century, Memorial Day was a big affair in the life of the community. Parades formed, bands played, and folks gathered at the cemetery for memorial services. As the automobile came into general use, Memorial Day began to lose its significance for many and became a chance to tour the country and hold the season’s first picnic.”
Schmidt asked his secretary, Joyce Miller, to write down all the names of the veterans buried at the cemetery. She came up with a list of more than 1,500 veterans. Letters were mailed out to the families of the veterans. They were asked to participate in the tribute by donating $7 for the cost of the flag pole and installation. There is no cost for the flag that is flown.
The first response Schmidt received for the Avenue of Flags was from Nellie Hawkins. She wrote that her father was a Civil War veteran who was buried at Bluff City Cemetery. “We kept getting letters,” Schmidt said. “We put up over 200 flags in that first year. My wife, Ellen; our sons, David and Leonard; and our daughters, Diane, Dena, and Debbie, all came to the cemetery at 4 a.m. so that the flags would be up in time for Memorial Day.”
The big American flags are installed every 12 feet. The tribute has grown over the years and will again be held this year.
“Last year, there were around 500 flags,” Schmidt said. “I started the tradition because I wanted to bring respect to Bluff City Cemetery.”
Family members are proud of his dedication.
“Some days he wishes he was still working here,” said Schmidt’s daughter-in-law, Dawn Schmidt. “He believes people should have a good place to visit their loved ones.”