Donations fall shortPublished 10:06pm Saturday, October 26, 2013
With a Monday deadline to place an order for thousands of wreaths needed for an annual ceremony at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery, the organization in charge of the event is still thousands of dollars short of fully funding it this year.
Both the number and amount of donations have fallen this year, and a rise in the death rate of World War II veterans has increased the number of wreaths that will be needed for the wreath-laying ceremony in December, according to John Tutunjian, president of the volunteer-led, nonprofit Horton Wreath Society.
As aging World War II veterans pass on, Tutunjian said, the number of graves at the veterans’ cemetery is “increasing dramatically.”
There are some 5,460 people whose remains rest in the state-operated veterans’ cemetery in Suffolk. Some of the deceased share plots (in the case of married couples), and some of them were cremated and their cremains kept in the columbarium wall, so the actual number of wreaths needed for the ceremony is only about 5,200, Tutunjian said.
But the combination of a tough economy and rapidly filling cemetery grounds has caused serious funding problems for the event, and organizers said in a press conference on Friday that they were only 57 percent toward their goal, with another $15,000 or so needed to buy all the wreaths needed.
“Usually we find ourselves in this position in August,” Tutunjian said. “And normally by now we’ve made it to our goal.”
By way of illustrating the problem, he added, the society has sent donation requests to 186 corporate donors that previously have helped fund the event, but only 31 had responded by Friday.
A small group of volunteers including Tutunjian began a holiday tradition of placing evergreen wreaths on gravesites at the cemetery in 2006. By 2008, the Horton Wreath Society had been formed, and a formal program had been adopted as part of the “Wreaths Across America,” whose mission, according to its website, is to “remember the men and women who served our country, honor our military and their families, and teach our children about our freedom and those who protect it.”
“Our focus is simple on providing a level of respect and also educating youth,” Tutunjian said Friday.
Suffolk has three volunteers members of the Horton Wreath Society, but its participation and contributions lag behind other parts of Hampton Roads, members said.
“When you realize how many active-duty (military) people we’ve got in the area … we’re blessed to have this facility,” said Suffolk’s Jeanne Banks, who has led the wreath effort in the past and was instrumental in the formation of the Horton Wreath Society.
The organization has always subsisted on moderate donations, members said, and many of those supporters have contributed year after year. But many of those donations have shrunk this year, leaving the society markedly short of its goal.
Donations can be mailed to the following address: Horton Wreath Society Treasurer, 1401 Trapelo Court, Virginia Beach, VA 23456. For more information, visit hortonwreathsociety.webs.com.
The annual wreath-laying ceremony will be held Dec. 14. Wreaths will begin arriving at the cemetery at 9 a.m., with a ceremonial laying of wreaths taking place at 10 and others to be placed afterward. A formal ceremony with speeches and music will take place at noon.