Eye on KELOLAND: Hallowed ground

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Workers are putting the finishing touches on the new State Veterans Cemetery in northeast Sioux Falls. The cemetery plans to hold a ribbon cutting on Memorial Day, with the first burials to follow shortly afterward.

The cemetery’s groundbreaking took place on a cold and rainy day nearly two years ago. The muddy ground has been transformed into a lush and scenic setting getting ready to accept its first veterans.

“It’s come so far, everybody that drives in here too, are just shocked, how standing in all the mud that day to what it’s become now,” Cemetery Director Erin Brown said.

Crews are completing landscaping at the State Veterans Cemetery. They’re also installing sprinkler systems with new sod, to follow.

“We’ll hopefully be planting grass here in the next couple of weeks and making this up to national shrine standards and getting that green grass that we’re all patiently waiting for,” Brown said.

The cemetery will include nearly one-thousand plots to bury cremains, and nearly six-hundred sites for caskets.

“We already have the full grid for each section and in our casketed area, we already have the liners are already in the ground so when we dig, we dig the 18-20 inches of dirty there and we’ll be able to lift the lid off those in-ground liners and place the caskets inside,” Brown said.

Brick and mortar additions above ground are also important features of the cemetery. Services will be held inside this glass-enclosed committal shelter.

“We have about 20-minutes per service and then from there, the family will say their final goodbyes and then we will complete the burial,” Brown said.

Farther uphill, a wall, called a columbarium will contain spots for up to 660 urns.

“We can fit two urns in each one, so a husband and spouse or a veteran and spouse would be buried together in there and then they have a niche which will have all their information on which serves as their headstone,” Brown said.

Eventually, this cemetery will be the final resting place for 2,800 veterans and their families with the first burials likely taking place in June.

“The need has been here for years and the veterans on this side of the state, southwest Minnesota, what a great place to be able to have a final resting place out here for everybody,” Cemetery Representative Brian Voges said.

Some 1,100 veterans have begun the paperwork to be buried here.

“We have an average, I probably get five to eight applications a day, anywhere from a half-dozen to ten people coming in doing a drive-through, stopping in, asking questions, it’s been great,” Voges said.

Both Cemetery Representative Brian Voges and director Erin Brown have military backgrounds and plan to one day be buried here.

“It’s kind of tough having those discussions right now at my age, but me and my wife have talked about it,” Voges said.

Many other military families have had those same discussions. And as the State Veterans Cemetery gets ready to open, the staff takes their duty of honoring vets who’ve served their country, seriously and solemnly.

“This place will get to take care of the veterans and their families in possibly their saddest parts of their life and we will get too honor them and take care of them from hereon out,” Brown said.

The cemetery sits on 60-acres of land donated by the City of Sioux Falls. The ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 31st.

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