Celebrations for Memorial Day will look different across the Chagrin Valley and Geauga County this season as community leaders are forced to adjust their plans in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis.
While there will not be any parades to honor fallen service members, some communities are finding new ways to celebrate Memorial Day this coming Monday. Some are looking to virtual platforms, while others stick to more traditional moves.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay safe order prohibits large gatherings to slow the spread of the virus causing major celebration changes.
The Chagrin Falls Historical Society plans to live stream an observance from Evergreen Hill Cemetery in the village on Monday.
The group’s Facebook page will provide a link to the live stream, which will be made available to other social media websites that wish to open the event to their followers. The service will begin after the F-16 Flyover scheduled from 10-10:20 a.m.
The virtual event is sponsored by Chagrin Falls VFW Post 12067, made possible by Jeff Holbury, Jr. and his Drone Ohio video service and Chagrin Falls American Legion Post 383, which will produce the virtual ceremony honoring fallen service members of all wars.
The pastor of the day will be the Rev. Mark Simone of the Federated Church in Chagrin Falls, and the speaker of the day will be Jon Reiss, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Veterans Service Commission.
American Legion Post Commander Thomas Gretchko said the post will perform its “traditional rifle and cannon salute followed by video clips of our Gettysburg Address and Logan’s Orders speech contest winners.” He added that bagpiper Tim Reid, a former Chagrin Falls police officer, will play “Amazing Grace,” and Gail Thornton will sing “America the Beautiful” at the close of the ceremony.
Munson Township is going to pre-record its Memorial Day ceremony with the help of Geauga TV, and then put it on GTV’s website so residents can view it starting at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, which Munson Trustee Irene McMullen said was the ceremony’s normal start time.
She said the goal is to only have one trustee or “actor” in the room with the videographer when GTV comes to record the bits and pieces of the ceremony at Munson Township Hall this week. This will prevent a crowd from amassing at Maple Hill Ceremony, where the event traditionally takes place.
One of those actors will be state Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson, who has spoken at many Memorial Day ceremonies in the past but never in Munson itself, where he has resided since 1981.
“This is the first time I can remember that we’re not having a live ceremony and have the residents stay at home,” Mrs. McMullen said. “We’re sad that we have lost this opportunity to have the community gather, because we know it’s been an important tradition in our city and we’re trying to come up with a substitute that feels a little bit like our past traditions.”
In Pepper Pike, city officials are discussing the possibility of a virtual commemoration, Mayor Richard Bain said. Usually, the commemoration would take place at City Hall with crowds gathering outside and a performance by the Orange High School Marching Band.
Mayor Bain said the city plans to send a message and video clip to residents commemorating the day.
Other communities, however, have decided on more traditional or private methods. Some have even chosen not to hold any event and are instead looking to later dates to make up for the cancellations.
Chester Township will not be airing a ceremony. Trustee Walter “Skip” Claypool, who will deliver the Memorial Day proclamation, said the township doesn’t have any preferences about who shows up for the service at Chesterland Cemetery at 10 a.m. on Monday.
Mr. Claypool said Chagrin Falls resident Bob Somrak, Sr., 90, will speak at the event. Mr. Somrak is a World War II veteran who was stationed on the USS Missouri when the Empire of Japan surrendered, thus putting an end to the War in 1944.
He added that Chester would welcome “anybody who wants to honor our veterans and celebrate today.”
In Bainbridge, Trustee Chairwoman Kristina O’Brien said that this year the township will not be hosting the usual parade to Restland Cemetery.
She said that after some back and forth with Cindy Wojtasik, who has organized the Memorial Day event since 1978, they agreed to cancel it for the safety of the community surrounding the COVID-19 health crisis.
Normally, parade participants line up in the parking lot outside the Bainbridge Fire Department and proceed to the cemetery. There, Boy Scouts read off the names of fallen veterans and the township often hosts a member of the military as a speaker.
“It’s a really nice event commemorating the fallen. It’s so important,” Mrs. O’Brien said. “Unfortunately, at this time we can’t go forward (with an event). It’s just a strange time.”
Bainbridge Trustee Jeff Markley recently proposed a community Veterans’ Day celebration on Nov. 11 instead. While there may not be a parade, he said, this could be a safe time to make up for the Memorial Day cancellation.
Nancy Dolezal, Auburn administrative assistant, said the township canceled its public ceremony. Township veterans instead will get together for a private wreath laying ceremony this Sunday morning at Mapleshade and Shadyside cemeteries.
In Moreland Hills, morning services to lower the flag at half-staff, which is then raised at noon, usually take place at the Veteran’s Gateway Park that sits at the corner of Miles and SOM Center roads. Mayor Dan Frtiz said that he was waiting to see if Gov. DeWine would raise the group size limit to 50 people instead of 10 because between 20 and 40 people attend the service. Because this change had not been made as of Wednesday morning, services have been canceled.
Reporters Samantha Cottrill, Julie Hullett, Collin Cunningham and Barbara Christian contributed to this story.