One of the iconic events the organization hosts in the year, approximately 400 members of the green industry and their families gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to serve.
Projects varied from applying lime and phosphorus to certain lots, aerating, installing irrigation systems and more. The organization also worked in the Soldier’s and Airmen’s Home Cemetery for the second year.
Volunteers also had the opportunity to handle three different landscaping projects, including replacing a retaining wall and tree work.
According to Renewal & Remembrance chairman, John Eggleston, around 80 percent of the participants are individuals returning from previously serving.
While the day of service may pass in a blur, NALP begins working with Arlington National Cemetery in January to determine what tasks they’ll do that year and plan accordingly.
This year the opening ceremony was held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial because the traditional location at the amphitheater was under construction. Workers both young and old gathered to hear Colonel Jerry Farnsworth, chief of staff for the Army National Military Cemeteries, Jeff Buhler, NALP president, and Priscilla E. Quakenbush, retired Lieutenant Colonel for the United States Army Nurse Corps.
Farnsworth thanked the landscapers for their contribution and Buhler challenged the workers to take a moment during the day and pause.
“Life’s biggest moments can be missed if you don’t pause and reflect,” Buhler said.
Quakenbush shared the benefits green spaces have on injured soldiers and the meanings of the coins often seen placed on headstones.
After the dedication led by Tom Shotbarger, with Shotzbarger, Inc., a swath of neon vests bunched together for a group photo before scattering like ants to their various assignments.
The sun had only risen slightly in the sky, but the temperature was already causing team members to sweat as the high heat index remained a point of concern throughout the day.
While some landscapers brought their employees to participate like YardApes and Ruppert Landscape, others brought their families.
Children of landscapers were able to do their part during the Children’s Program, where they learned about caisson horses, and Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager for Stihl, shared with them the history of the USS Maine.
Over 200 people died during the sinking and Phelps shared the power and importance of remembering the fallen, including those whose identities are unknown.
“They were somebody’s son, somebody’s husband or somebody’s brother, but they served with honor,” Phelps said.
The kids planted annuals near the USS Maine Memorial and left bouquets of flowers at the grave markers of unknown soldiers from the tragedy.
One example of a landscaper who has been serving Renewal & Remembrance for years is Miles Kuperus Jr., CEO of Farmside Landscape & Design, based in Sussex, New Jersey. Not only does Kuperus volunteer, but his entire family serves as well.
His wife, Lisa, believes they have been coming for at least 15 years, as her youngest son, Wesley was just a baby during their first time attending.
The Kuperuses started attending Renewal & Remembrance when Farmside Landscape & Design joined NALP, which was known as PLANET at the time, just trying to get an understanding for the event.
There was no Children’s Program back then, but this changed shortly after with Lisa Kuperus taking the lead to help run this portion of the event. As the Kuperus children grew older, each found their own reason for why they continue to participate.
“A lot of my siblings are now older, so we don’t have time in our schedule, but we make time because it has such a high value of importance to us, and it’s just something we value and we love and we love meeting new people,” said Racheal Kuperus, who is 22 years old and the third oldest in the family. “We love seeing old faces and our community here.”
Racheal started out planting annuals as a participant of the Children’s Program, and as she has grown up, she has taken on leadership roles with the program alongside her mother.
“I just really picked it up because I love sharing the knowledge of plants and everything and I just love kids,” she said. “I’m going into teaching, so being able to continue in the kids’ program, I love it. I love seeing the kids learning and that’s why I’m here at the Children’s Program. (I’m) amazed that these children are here so young and exposed to something so raw, and honestly, it’s beautiful to see.”
Racheal’s older sister, Anna Marie, who is 24, started out helping collect trash with her father and transitioned over to the Children’s Program a couple years ago. Despite living and working in Michigan now, Anna Marie still makes a point to return for Renewal & Remembrance.
She enjoys seeing the progress over the years as Arlington continually grows to trust the organization more and allows them to do more complex projects.
“Ultimately, it comes back down to serving and volunteering for all those who gave much more so that’s really what it comes down to, but it’s really cool to see other people and see it through their eyes for the first time because that’s how we were the first time when we first started,” Anna Marie said.
Wesley, who is 15 and the youngest, also enjoys seeing the progress NALP has made over the years. He helps out by cleaning up trash that is left over from the volunteer work, such as liming.
“I’ve been here a long time and I can remember where it was in the beginning, and I see projects from the past to the future now and it looks so nice and that’s why I think it’s good,” he said.
Richard, who is 20 and the second youngest in the family, worked as a co-champion with his eldest brother Miles Kuperus III this year on sustainability and hydration. The goal was to leave no trace behind and to ensure the cemetery looks cleaner when they leave it. They also want to recycle as much as possible, with last year having a 90 percent recycling rate.
“We want to get to that 100,” Richard said. “That’s what sustainability is all about. We’re in the green industry. We want to be green and recycling as much as possible.”
Richard is currently involved in the family business and going to school for a degree related to the green industry.
“Every year, I always look forward to coming back and stepping up to more leadership roles,” Richard said. “It’s all about giving back. That’s the main reason. This is what I know, this is what I love, and for those who have given everything, this is the best that I can do in return.”