Streetsboro VFW members (from left to right) Brian Smith, Ted Endler and Ryan Martin pose for a portrait at the Streetsboro Cemetery. Michael Indriolo/The Portager
People drive by Streetsboro Cemetery near state Routes 14 and 43 every day without giving the deteriorating landmark a second thought.
Not the case for Ryan Martin, commander of Streetsboro VFW Post 9716. The city’s “V,” as he affectionately calls it, is on a mission.
“We want to get it looking more like a cemetery than a rock yard,” he said. “There are headstones laying on the ground. It’s an eyesore to the city. On top of that, there are veterans in there. I think there are 12, from the Civil War era, troops of the Grand Republic.”
Under Martin’s leadership, those headstones will stand again.
The post has contracted with Portage Marble in Kent to refurbish the stones that can be salvaged and place them securely in the ground. Streetsboro’s Service Department will do the prep work, including removing trees that are disturbing headstones.
Bingo and lottery proceeds are funding the project, which Martin estimates will eventually cost between $75,000 and $100,000. Phase 1, expected to begin in May or June, is to refurbish 15-20 headstones, prioritizing the veterans’ markers. That alone will cost around $21,000, even at the discounted rate Portage Marble is providing.
Raising that kind of cash took Post 9716 about a year, even while the post was shut down for a few months because of Covid, Martin said.
His larger goal is to get the VFW’s name out there and perhaps gain much-needed membership. The average age of the post’s membership is 65-70, and only about 20 of the 70 full members are under the age of 50.
“It’s time for us to step up and take the reins from these guys. We’re just trying to keep the tradition going,” he said.
Though the VFW has a stigma as “an old man’s drinking hole, it is more, much more than that,” Martin said. The post funds numerous school and community projects and would like to do more. But “more” depends on membership, and that’s where the cemetery project comes in. Martin’s hope is that veterans will see the highly visible project and be motivated to join the post.
To be eligible as a full member, veterans must have either served in an overseas combat zone or have been awarded a global war on terrorism medal, first established by President George H.W. Bush by executive order.
“We want to put a stamp on our town, that it was done by us. We see it as doing something for the community. Everybody should have pride in their town,” Martin said.
Spouses and other veterans can join as auxiliary members, and social memberships are available to the general public. While those memberships do swell the post’s membership to about 250, that’s still not enough to keep it alive, he said.
Once the whole cemetery is restored to what it once was and should be again, Post 9716 will not walk away. Members will continue doing general cleanup a few times a year, and they will make sure veterans’ stones are marked with flags. Some men and women will do more.
“I drive by it every day. If I see trash over there, I pull over and pick it up and throw it away,” Martin said. “I think it’s a terrible looking part of the town. There’s veterans over there that deserve to have a headstone standing up proud.”