Since 2000, the Ridges Cemeteries Committee has been working to refurbish and beautify the cemeteries and, in so doing, restore dignity to the deceased and fight stigma against their living counterparts. Since 2005, the Committee has made sure that Memorial Day is celebrated there, too. In recent years, wreaths have been placed to emphasize the humanity of those buried there.
The 2014 ceremony, which took place under a large tent at the newest cemetery on the hill directly opposite the Dairy Barn, was very moving. The two individuals remembered with wreath laying were First World War veteran Jesse Sparks and mother-of-four Pearl Mae Hanley-Coakley.
Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl read the eulogy and placed the wreath for Jesse Sparks – most likely a victim of war-inflicted PTSD.(picture by Lori Crook of the Athens News)
State Representative Debbie Phillips then read the eulogy for Mrs. Hanley-Coakley who had died of Huntington’s disease – the same disorder which killed singer Woody Guthrie.
More than a dozen of Pearl Mae Haney-Coakley’s two, three and four times great grandchildren were present. “We have a lot of family members who are afflicted by Huntington’s disease” observed great-granddaughter Angela Poston.
The dignity and solemnity of the ceremony were underscored by other groups and individuals. Terry Russell, CEO of NAMI Ohio gave opening remarks. A group of Veterans led by Joe Mulligan acted as color guard and did the 21-gun salute. Sharell Arocho, a singer with a powerful Aretha Franklin-like voice, sang the National Anthem, Coming Home and Amazing Grace. And Vietnam War veteran Caroline Cade did Taps. Reporters from the The Athens News, the Athens Messenger, and WOUB TV gave the event wide coverage.