Banks honored for cemetery work

Published 9:28 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Virginia Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Paul Galanti honors Jeanne Banks, former president of the Horton Wreath Society, with a plaque for her four years of work ensuring that every gravesite at Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery could have a wreath during the Christmas season.

Jeanne Banks, the driving force behind the Horton Wreath Society, has decided to retire from the job. But officials at the state veterans’ cemetery in Suffolk wouldn’t let her go without a party.

Dan Kemano, cemeteries director for the state Department of Veterans Services, called Banks to tell her he had something to give her at the cemetery.

“I thought it was a card or a letter,” she said. “I was surprised.”

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When she arrived at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery Wednesday morning, she found two plaques waiting for her. They were presented by Virginia Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Paul Galanti, who traveled to the cemetery on Milners Road in Suffolk especially for the presentation.

“They did it up big time,” said Banks, who is retiring from the volunteer position because of her health.

For years, Banks has been the president of the Horton Wreath Society, which raises money each year through donations to place a fresh wreath on every gravesite at the veterans’ cemetery for the Christmas season.

The ceremony also featured a flag flown in her honor at Langley Air Force Base and a collage of pictures from wreath-laying events.

“I do it for the veterans from my heart, so I don’t need any recognition,” Banks said. “I’m very honored and appreciate very much the recognition, but I’m just one of many. You know how many people it takes to put those wreaths out. It’s not a one-woman show.”

Banks began the tradition when she decided that the small Wreaths Across America ceremony held every December wasn’t enough.

Kemano initially doubted she would be able to accomplish her vision, he admitted Wednesday.

“I really don’t think you can do what you’re envisioning,” he recalled telling her. “She said, ‘I certainly can do it.’”

Every year since, Banks has led the group in raising enough money to place a wreath at every grave, despite the steep increase in the number of graves each year.

“She had a vision, and she fulfilled that vision,” Kemano said. “It did require a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. We’re just so doggone proud of her.”

Banks said she regrets having to resign, but the committee is expected to vote this month on someone to take her seat — though she can never truly be replaced, Kemano said.

“We’re going to really, really miss her,” he said. “She’s a special lady.”