April 12th, 2024

Cemetery volunteer pays respects to city’s veterans


By Lethbridge Herald on November 7, 2023.

Cemetery volunteer Stan Adamus kneels next to a flag and poppy placed at the gravestone of private Hector Gaudry this week in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. Herald photo by Al Beeber

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Stan Adamus stands among gravestones and points to the sky, telling a reporter he won’t be rewarded in this life for his efforts to maintain a city cemetery but hopes to in the next life.

Adamus is a volunteer for City Cemetery Services who lovingly restores broken gravestones – some damaged from mowers – and places poppies and flags at the graves of Canadian war veterans in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in north Lethbridge.

He’s placing flags and poppies at all 28 veterans graves in the cemetery, the second year he’s done this act of remembrance for the fallen.

He says it was disheartening last year to see many veterans’ graves at Mountain View cemetery without poppies or flags and wishes he could show respect to them all.

Next year, he’ll be doing a restoration project at a nearby cemetery out of the city with 165 grave sites, 65 of which have been identified.

That cemetery, Adamus says, has been vandalized and neglected for years and he wants to restore it to its proper condition.

Adamus has hauled seven truckloads of dirt – left by the City of Lethbridge just inside the gates of St. Patrick’s – by pail and wagon to areas of the cemetery to level the ground in areas where it has sunk, some of the damage which has been caused over the years by burrowing ground squirrels.

 He has used his own expensive environmentally-friendly cleaning material to remove the detritus off neglected grave markers so the long departed are still shown respect long after they took their last breaths.

And he admits he talks to those buried underneath the grass at St. Patrick’s as he painstakingly cleans their markers or places the poppies and flags to honour their service and sacrifice to maintain Canada’s freedom and way of life.

Adamus never fought in a war himself but he knows well how it will impact the lives of others.

His father was a veteran of the Polish army in the Second World War who spent years as a prisoner in a German concentration camp.

Adamus says his father always wore long sleeves because he wanted to hide from view of anyone the tattoo etched upon his skin while he served time as a prisoner of the Nazis who overran his country in Adamus’s words “in about 15 minutes.”

He said the only time his dad talked about the war was when a friend from Penticton came to the city and the two would sit at a table, smoking and drinking whisky to reminisce about it.

“Only the odd time they talked about it,” Adamus said recalling his mother once told him about a day the Nazis came into a church with machine guns but she said nothing else.

“It’s hard to fathom what they did,” he said.

“I don’t know how he survived,” he said of his father’s whose brother was a prisoner at a different camp.

Adamus has spent four years working in city cemeteries restoring monuments. One veteran’s grave particularly touched him, that belonging to a 27-year-old who went overseas in World War One “and came back in a pine box.”

Adamus said it “put it in perspective for me. I was married at 21,  divorced at 27 and this kid died for us. And sometimes I’ve got all the data on them. I find a grave and make sure I’ve got the right ones and who they are. It’s interesting some of their background,” he says referring also to what he calls “baby hill” where lie graves of children who were stillborn or died well before they reached their teens.

“That’s heart-wrenching to see that. Most of them are back to where they should be, I elevate them” and repair them so the people get proper respect.

“I do it for the people at the graves and the relatives,” said Adamus.

One monument is more than 100 years old, made by a man from Vancouver with a faded inscription in honour of his Polish father. Adamus restored it using cordless tools he bought because there is no electricity in the city cemeteries.

The man, now 94, told Adamus he didn’t know if he’d ever be back to the city to visit his dad’s gravesite so Adamus is determined to properly repair it.

“My bosses here have never complained about my work,” joked Adamus as he walked to a gravestone to plant a flag.

While flags are supposed to put in front of markers, he places them beside stones to prevent damage if they are hit by mowers.

Adamus says gophers have caused a lot of damage to the cemetery grounds, the holes they have created which he says should be filled.

All flags, he said, have to be removed from the cemetery on Nov. 12, the day after Remembrance Day due to veterans protocol.

Over the years, Adamus has repaired about 200 graves at St. Patrick’s. And a total of 300 in the city.

He always puts a rose in front of the graves to show someone has visited them and also in honour of his mother because that was her favourite flower.

He tries to make sure gravestones are straight and not leaning and fixes those that are missing pieces.

A lot of the graves seldom get visited and when they do “I’m delighted,” he says.

“I talk to the people, I’ll say ‘John, I’m only going to be here for a while and I’ll be done.’ And when I’m done I say ‘thank you for letting me repair your monument.’”

Adamus says “I’m honoured to be able to do this.”

One wooden cross was on the ground rotting for two years before Adamus restored it.

While visiting his mother’s grave one day, he found another one which was beyond repair so he built a new one for the person.

Overlooking North Scenic Drive at the top of “baby hill” is a larger granite stone with the names of four people etched into it, one of whom Adamus was told is a veteran so it was appropriately marked.

Down the hill are several unmarked graves so next year “God willing,” Adamus says he’ll make some flower beds so the people there will get some recognition.

Adamus is passionate about respecting the people buried in St. Patrick’s and he says every time he walks out the gate of the cemetery “I leave with a peaceful, contented feeling.”

Share this story:

39
3 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JustObserving

Good on you Stan….I know you and know you dont seek praise for doing something so meaningful to you but we owe you a HUGE thanks for taking on this onerous task, as a volunteer….

IMO

Mr. Adamus, thank you for your passion in generously volunteering your time to ensure that many unvisited graves receive the attention and restoration they merit. Your devotion to this work is inspiring.