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EGLE veterans clean up Grand Rapids Veterans Cemetery

Ahead of Memorial Day, MI Environment is featuring an article by Jim Day, senior environmental quality analyst in the Materials Management Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), on the volunteer cleanup work of the department’s Veterans Employee Resource Group at the Grand Rapids Veterans’ cemetery.

As if it was meant to be, EGLE Vets was provided with perfect sunshine and temperatures to spend a day outside removing fallen tree limbs and branches that had encroached upon the Grand Rapids Veterans’ Cemetery over the winter. Light work was made by many hands as a group of 10 volunteers made their way over eight large cemetery plots that make up the 15 acres that constitute the final resting place for over 4,000 interred veterans and their dependents.

Grand Rapids Veterans Cemetery volunteers group shot. Courtesy of Jim Day.

Volunteers who helped with the Grand Rapids Veterans Cemetery cleanup. Courtesy of Jim Day.


Dedicated on Memorial Day in 1886, the original cemetery was designed in the form of a Maltese cross with 262 grave sites in each of its four sections. A granite statue of a Civil War soldier, which still stands watch over the original cemetery footprint, was placed at the center of the cross eight years later in 1894.

State of Michigan volunteers, consisting of nine EGLE staff and family members and one Michigan Department of State ally, gathered into two utility golf carts, the weathered remnants of oak trees standing guard over the hallowed grounds.

EGLE Vets is one of many volunteer organizations that have offered their time and effort to the cemetery.  Every year, the Boy Scouts place American flags at each cemetery grave marker around the Memorial Day holiday. And Wreaths Across America volunteers place wreaths on each grave marker in December each year.

Brittney Beavers Marjorie Easton Amber Lee (with Jonathon Vruggink's hand). Courtesy of Jim Day.

Brittney Beavers, Marjorie Easton, Amber Lee, and Jonathon Vruggink (off camera). Courtesy of Jim Day. 


Reflecting over the day’s activities, volunteers put forward that this be an annual event. Ten volunteers were the perfect number of participants, as the work was accomplished in just over four hours. Volunteers were able to use Community and School Participation Leave for the project.

During a lunch break, the volunteers discussed their military experiences – and those of their forebears – covering World War II to present day.  An EGLE Vet volunteer, currently a member of the Michigan Army National Guard, demonstrated to amazed onlookers the newly enacted U.S. Army physical qualification pushup.

Michigan Veterans Home grounds staff, who oversee the cemetery, expressed great appreciation for this EGLE Vets event.  The cemetery is currently managed by “An Army of One” so that the day’s efforts greatly assisted in removing nature’s fallen obstacles to allow for spring mowing and beautification of the cemetery grounds to begin.

As EGLE Vets reaches its one-year anniversary, and in conjunction with Earth Day celebrations, the group is working on the spring clean-up of State-owned veterans’ cemeteries as an annual Community and School Participation Leave event for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) under the EGLE Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) umbrella.

End of day “Taps” was sounded in the reverberating hum of leaf blowers clearing access drives to allow for cemetery visitors to these hallowed grounds in 2023.

Questions regarding how you can support EGLE Vets in their annual veterans’ cemetery cleanup and other activities can be directed to, Autumn Henney, EGLE Vets engagement lead, at

Other questions about EGLE Vets and this volunteer project should be directed to Jim Day, EGLE Vets senior lead at