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Headstone work earns DAR honor

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Ron Shadley thought he was just going to speak to the local DAR chapter Thursday about restoring damaged grave markers at Sand Hill Cemetery.

He did that, but at the end of the talk he got a surprise.

Jane Johnson of the Joseph Hart Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution presented him with a National Historic Preservation Award from the organization.

Shadley was stunned. He had no idea he had been nominated for the award.

“I didn’t anticipate this at all. It’s like Christmas in April,” Shadley said.

The National Society of the DAR Historic Preservation Award is presented to individuals with a distinguished record in historic preservation.

Criteria for the award include efforts to establish a historic district or preserving a local landmark, restoration or preservation of objects of historic cultural significance and establishing or long-term participation in oral history projects.

Shadley, who is funeral director at Myers-Reed Dignity Memorial Chapel, was recognized for his efforts to have grave markers at Sand Hill Cemetery repaired.

The Myers-Reed Chapel on 25th Street is about a mile from historic Sand Hill Cemetery, where vandals damaged many of the markers in 2012.

Shadley went to survey the site after he heard about the damage.

“When I went up there and saw it, I was just sick,” Shadley said. “I had to do something, because it’s such a neat old place and the people buried there deserve that.”

While Shadley’s heart was in the right place, a survey determined it would cost about $25,000 to repair the 31 damaged stones, an amount too large for him to pay.

Clay Township, where the cemetery is located, was having some internal government issues at the time, and funds were just not available to pay for the restoration, he said.

Shadley established a fund, the Friends of the Sand Hill Cemetery, with the hope of raising money for the project. He got a big assist from two Bartholomew County organizations.

The Walter C. Nugent Foundation contributed $15,000 and the Custer Foundation chipped in $2,000. He helped raise the remaining money.

Shadley was the driving force behind the project, said Helen Wildermuth of Stonehugger Cemetery Restoration in Brown County, the company that completed the repairs.

“He is a wonderful fundraiser and a wonderful man,” Wildermuth said.  

Shadley, 59, has been active in a number of community projects, including the Columbus Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.

While Johnson agrees that the restoration was a community effort, she said Shadley was nominated for the DAR award because he spearheaded the project.

“There were a lot of people involved, and I don’t want to take anything away from them, but somebody has to step up and get things started and he did that,” Johnson said. “When you work hard and take time away from other things, it’s a real commitment. It deserved to be recognized.”

Shadley said Wildermuth also deserves recognition because she has done about $20,000 worth of restoration work for stones at the cemetery that weren’t damaged by vandals, but that had deteriorated over time.

“I am accepting donations and still trying to get her paid for that work,” Shadley said. “She’s not beating me over the head about it, but she did the work and should get paid.”

A Joseph Hart Chapter DAR member who heard Shadley’s story, but asked to remain anonymous, approached him after the speech and offered to contribute $100 to help pay for the additional restorations.

Shadley was not surprised by the spontaneous gesture.

“That’s just the type of community we live in,” he said.

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