Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

Several volunteers worked hard Saturday morning to honor veterans at Mount Hope Cemetery.

Straightening the headstones of military veterans was the task at hand as eight community members and Rotary Club volunteers descended on the veterans section of the cemetery with shovels and prybars in hand.

One volunteer, Henry Benavidez, working with another volunteer, looked down a row of the white headstones set in concrete bases to determine if the one he and his partner had just finished adjusting lined up with the others.

“We’re bringing him back into formation with the rest of his partners,” Benavidez said.

The headstone had sunk about six inches into the ground. Benavidez explained how the headstone and its base were too heavy to lift up. Using shovels and a prybar, he worked with his partner to dig around the base of the headstone. It was rocked one way and sand was place under the opposite side and then rocked the other way to place sand under the other side. The process was repeated until the headstone’s base was level with the ground and lined up with the others in the row.

Dennis Tesky, retired from Gray’s West Stone Tributes and a Rotary Club member, directed the work that the club has been doing for the past four years.

“You’ll want to use a prybar,” Tesky said to Rotary Club Member Tom Montoya as Montoya was working to adjust a headstone.

Most of the headstones the volunteers were working on were tilted and needed to be straightened, but not raised like the one Benavidez dealt with.

To straighten the headstones, the first step was to use a shovel to cut and remove the sod from around the base of the headstone. Volunteers used pieces of wood to brace the prybar, which was used to raise the headstone to allow another volunteer to place and tamp sand beneath it.

That helps to make it level. One of the volunteers looks down the row and indicates to the others when the stone is standing straight. Once the headstone is leveled, the sod is replaced. The process takes two or three people to accomplish.

Honoring veterans was the common answer when the volunteers were asked what motivated them to show up at the cemetery on a Saturday morning.

Montoya and his wife, Sandy, were also honoring their two children, both of whom are Army veterans.

“They were both in Afghanistan,” Tom Montoya said.

Gary Beard, a retired Army veteran who served in the Gulf War, was there to honor veterans. The emotion was evident in his voice as he spoke of six comrades he lost in the Gulf War.

“It’s just an honor to be out and do these types of things,” Beard said.

Tom Montoya said those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to their country deserve to be honored.

“It’s just a way to say thank you by doing a little bit of community service here as part of Rotary and being out here with the folks by doing a good deed,” Montoya said.

Beard was accompanied by his 9-year-old daughter, Sage. She helped the volunteers by distributing bottles of water. She also grabbed a shovel and helped place fill material under the headstone bases as Rotarian Dotty Miles and Sandy Montoya adjusted headstones.

See more in the June 19, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.