For the 21st year in a row, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) held their Renewal & Remembrance 2017 event at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
While there, over 400 volunteers in the landscaping industry came together to provide services in the areas of liming, aeration, tree work, phosphorus work, irrigation installation and repair, a children’s program and hardscape projects.
During the children’s program, over 40 children had the opportunity to hear educational talks on Arlington and landscaping, participate in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and plant flowers at the nurses’ memorial and on World War I graves to honor the 100th anniversary of WWI.
Along with the work done at Arlington, a new leg of the event was added at the United States Soldier’s and Airmen’s National Cemetery. Similar services were provided for this location, and NALP chairman John Eggleston says that he hopes to see the program continue to grow and expand.
“We’re looking to grow the event because of you guys,” Eggleston said. “We are getting to the point where we have 500-600 people coming to this event and we’ve got work for 400, and people want to come and do something. There’s stuff that we can do if we just open our eyes and look for it.”
As volunteers gathered at the 624-acre cemetery for the Opening Ceremony Monday morning, they were greeted by a myriad of speakers including NALP’s current president Jon Cundiff, acting superintendent for Arlington Katherine Kelley, owner of Southern Sprinkler Systems Ed Klaas and deputy director of Team Red, White and Blue Brennan Mullaney.
“Today, much like many of the trees and the cultural resources that are in and around you right now, we remember that Arlington has been a place of solemn honor, remembrance and tradition for people across this country and across the world,” Kelley said. “We are fortunate to have a dedicated and caring group of landscape professionals, horticulturists, arborists, foresters, gardeners and family and friends to pay respect here at Arlington.”
Kelley noted that within Arlington, there are 265,000 service members buried on the grounds.
Cundiff’s speech focused on three simple words that were instilled in him from a young age: “And then some.” He stressed the importance of doing your work but not stopping when the job seemed finished; there is always just a little extra detail that can be done to make a project go from good to great.
“So today, here we are at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery honoring the fallen men and women and their families of the armed forces,” Cundiff said. “The soldiers that have sacrificed and are buried in Arlington Cemetery and across the globe are the ultimate example of the ‘and then some,’ mentality. I cannot think of a group of individuals who are better examples of doing their job and then some.”
Out and about
One of the focal point projects of this year’s event was the installation of a protected seating area in the Wheaton Lot.
Joe Markell, president of Sunrise Landscape and Design, and his crew helped with the installation process. Markell says that while his company has completed a few hardscape repair projects for Arlington in the past, this is the first full hardscape project done for the cemetery.
“Arlington’s concern is they don’t want people walking in the landscape,” Markell said. “They would discharge passengers here, then they’d go out in the cemetery or wait for another ride. This gives them a place to transition into the cemetery or actually wait here in a space that’s protected.”
Many volunteers for the day were business owners who could not only see the impact this event had on their staff members, but also felt the impact themselves.
As a first-time attendee, Joe Szczechowicz, president and owner of SLS Landscape Design and Development in Rowley, Massachusetts, says he would recommend this event to his staff back home.
“As tired as I am, it feels pretty awesome, frankly, to be part of an organization that organizes all of this, and to be here at Arlington National Cemetery giving back,” he said. “It feels pretty damn good.”
Szczechowicz says that one reason he would recommend this event to others in this industry is to “keep yourself grounded.”
As business owners, Szczechowicz says it’s easy to fall into the habit of stressing and worrying over marketing, selling, recruiting and more, but taking the time to work at Arlington helps insert a bit of perspective into the daily grind.
“This is about real life, life and death, the freedoms that we enjoy,” he said. “Pretty much everybody that’s here has created that for us.”
What it means to them
Throughout the day, volunteers rallied to complete projects across the grounds. Some volunteers, such as Danielle Lees from SLS Landscape Design and Development in Rowley, Massachusetts, have previously served in the military and have a personal understanding regarding those buried at Arlington.
“It is a little overwhelming,” she said. “Seeing the cemetery, it’s so…overwhelming is the only word I can use to describe it. It brings back a lot of memories and things you felt while you were in the service. I feel proud to see how we honor past service members like this. It’s awesome to see the magnitude of the group that came here today from NALP to donate their time and services.”
Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for NALP, has been on staff for two years and continues to see the growth in participation each year, along with the significant role Renewal & Remembrance plays in the lives of the volunteers.
“For me, personally, this event has particular significance,” she said. “Both of my grandparents are buried here. My grandfather served in Pearl Harbor and I, like probably so many others who have loved ones here, really appreciate the sense of calm and beauty that comes with the beautiful grounds that are here. I think that’s why our volunteers are here today, because they have a passion and a love of creating and maintain outdoor spaces where people will indeed find that calm and that sense of peace.”
When Renewal & Remembrance first began, Henriksen estimates there were about 50 volunteers at the first project. Twenty-one years later, the numbers have grown to almost 500 with almost 50 children now participating as well.
“The program in its infancy was as large as our children’s program is today,” she said. “It really does show you the fact that 400 plus landscape professionals are here from over 30 states during their busiest time of the year. It really does speak to that passion that they have and their desire to help others through the work they do.”