Retirees among Catholic Cemeteries’ Memorial Day weekend volunteers
June 13, 2014
Working two-hour shifts stationed under green tents at Calvary Cemetery in Omaha, volunteers Gene Wessling and Ron Glinka helped people honor the dead over Memorial Day weekend.
The two retirees located gravesites for visitors to the cemetery, sold flowers and gave families U.S. flags provided by Catholic Cemeteries.
"There’s so many little tasks to do that mean so much," said Deacon Bill Hill, director of Catholic Cemeteries. "And the volunteers are so gracious."
Glinka, 66, and a member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Omaha, has volunteered on Memorial Day weekend for three years, and Wessling, 78, for two. Both said they also plan to be back next year.
"It’s very satisfying helping people find the gravesites they’re looking for," said Wessling, a member of Mary Our Queen Parish in Omaha. "It’s just a nice thing to do. I enjoyed it."
Glinka, who served in the Air Force for 22 years, said it’s important to honor the dead, especially military members, and particularly on Memorial Day.
The two were among about 30 volunteers who worked in shifts from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 23-26, Memorial Day weekend, said Pat Dougherty, who organized the volunteers and is director of information technology at the archdiocese’s Catholic Cemeteries.
About half of the volunteers are retirees, Dougherty said.
"It’s very important to us," Doughtery said of the volunteers’ work. "They help a lot of people."
The holiday weekend – the busiest time of year at the cemeteries – drew an estimated 8,000 people to the archdiocese’s five Catholic cemeteries in Omaha, which also include Holy Sepulchre, Resurrection, St. Mary and St. Mary Magdalene, said Jerry Broz, Catholic Cemeteries’ general manager.
Employees helped people at all five sites. But volunteers such as Wessling and Glinka also chipped in at Calvary, which is the largest of the cemeteries, covering 53 acres, with nearly 28,000 graves out of about 36,000 burial plots available, Deacon Hill said.
Finding a grave at Calvary can be tricky because the grave markers are flat, level with the ground, to retain the cemetery’s park-like setting. Using a cemetery database to connect a name with a plot, volunteers find the plot on a map that they give to visitors. When needed, volunteers escort people to gravesites.
Wessling said he looked up about 50 gravesites for visitors during his noon to 2 p.m. shift on Memorial Day.
"It was a pretty steady stream," he said of the crowd.
For Wessling and Glinka, members of the Knights of Columbus, volunteering at the cemetery is just one way they serve their parishes and communities.
For the last five years, Glinka has been in charge of the Knights’ pancake breakfasts at his parish, which have benefited an Omaha homeless shelter, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Madonna School and other organizations.
Helping at Calvary and elsewhere is rewarding, he said. "I get more out of it than I ever put into it, that’s for sure."
Glinka and his wife, Andrea, have two children and three grandchildren. He retired four years ago, after he sold his insurance business.
"My health isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to help others," he said.
Wessling said he worked at a number of places before retiring four years ago, including 25 years at an Omaha electronics store.
He said he and his wife, Mary Ann, stay busy with seven children, 22 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Wessling is the pro-life director for Knights Council 11700 at Mary Our Queen and works at fish fries during Lent and bicycle giveaways at Christmas.
The cemetery work is one more way to serve, Wessling said.
"It’s just a nice opportunity to be a Christian Catholic man doing good things."