“To be killed in war is the not the worst that can happen. To be lost is not the worst that can happen. … To be forgotten is the worst.” – Pierre Claeyssens
STEVENSVILLE – At Stevensville High School, every graduating senior is required to do a senior project that both supports and gives back to their community.
Last year, Colton Wortman took awhile to seriously ponder what he’d like to do.
At the time, his brother, Josh, was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. He had his own aspirations to join the Air Force.
And his mother, Christa, was a holiday wreath maker extraordinaire whose business averaged 3,000 evergreen wreaths every year around the holidays.
Somewhere along the way, the family heard about the national Wreaths Across America Day that coordinates wreath laying ceremonies as on veterans’ graves across the country on a Saturday in December.
“I thought that was a really cool thing to do,” Colton remembered.
Last year, Colton and a few others helped his mother make 400 wreaths that were placed on veterans’ graves at two Stevensville cemeteries with help from members of the American Legion Fort Owen Post 94 and local Boy Scouts.
It was such a success that the Wortman family decided to do it again this year.
On Friday, in a shop filled with the sweet smell of freshly cut evergreen, the two brothers and their mother were putting the finishing touches on the 500 wreaths that will be carefully placed on veterans’ graves Saturday.
“When we first started talking about doing this, we all felt that it was important that our community understand the sacrifice that our veterans and their families have made for our country,” Christa said. “It’s really a way to pay remembrance and honor our veterans.”
Having both of her sons together this week has made the project even more special this year.
Josh completed his enlistment with the Marines this fall. Colton will leave for Air Force boot camp just after the first of the year.
“We didn’t start this just because the boys are in the military,” Christa said. “It does make me proud that they are here with me today.”
While tying bright red bows on just-completed evergreen wreaths, Josh said he was happy to be back home and able to help out with this project started by his brother.
“When you see all those red bows in the cemetery, you really begin to understand the depth of the sacrifice that our veterans have made,” he said. “That willingness to sacrifice is really what our country is all about.”
American Legion Post 94 commander Bill Jette said that he’s received a lot of good feedback from local veterans and others in the community following last year’s event.
“At first, people wondered where all these wreaths came from and who had done all this work,” Jette said. “We had never done anything like this before. When people learned more, they told us that it was really nice.”
Jette said that most people find time in their busy lives to volunteer for this or that, but this was something more.
“For someone to take time to make 500 wreaths and then donate them to decorate the graves of 500 veterans, well, that’s just beyond what most of us do,” he said.
At the wreath-laying ceremony last year, Christa was touched as she listened to one of the Boy Scout troop leaders explain what he wanted to see as his charges placed the wreaths atop of the graves.
“He told them that he didn’t want to see them just drop the wreaths on the graves and move on,” she said. “He told them he wanted them to take a minute, clean off the headstone and say thanks.
“That’s the whole purpose of this,” Christa said. “It’s supposed to be a time to remember that sacrifice given freely for all of us.”
She remembers a feeling of contentment as she watched the scouts stop, dust off the headstones and carefully place the wreaths she and others had made last December.
By this time of year, when the holidays are about here, Christa said she normally feels exhausted after making nearly 3,000 wreaths for her Wreaths by Christa business.
“By now, I’m usually just dogging it,” she said Friday. “But these last two years, I’ve found myself really looking forward to getting to these. Giving back is something that just fills you right back up.”
Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.