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Renovating a memorial: St. Thomas Cemetery has rededication after upgrades

UPDATED: Sun., May 30, 2021

The national anthem started a bit before noon.

A member of the color guard sang the first few words alone before 100 or so people joined in. Most sang quietly, some well off-key, but they knew every word and sang the whole song together.

At noon, the color guard fired their guns three times in quick succession, the casings from their blanks flashing gold in the sunlight.

It was a beautiful Sunday at St. Thomas Cemetery in Coeur d’Alene. Dozens of flags – representing America, Idaho and prisoners of war, to name a few – rippled in the warm breeze.

The weather and holiday had many out golfing or boating on the lake. But some decided to attend the cemetery’s rededication ceremony instead.

“We feel strongly about honoring our veterans and honoring our fallen heroes,” visitor Noreen Schelstrate said.

The 130-year-old St. Thomas Cemetery has received a face-lift. Donors from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church and the community raised $90,000 for several improvements.

“It needed some TLC,” said Anne Wilson, who chairs the church’s Stars and Stripes Ministry.

The cemetery’s chain-link fence has been replaced with one made of black metal bars. There are new benches. Visitors can now use their cellphones to scan a QR code on the cemetery map to locate their loved ones.

Two white granite statues, one of Jesus and one of the Virgin Mary, line the walkway. The cemetery’s pavilion has new lights, a fresh coat of paint, a new altar face and new lettering on its niches – the resting place for cremation urns.

The cemetery registry has been updated as well. It now has accurate records on every individual buried within it.

“Now we’re exact,” said the Rev. John Mosier of St. Thomas .

Not everyone who attended the rededication ceremony has a loved one buried in the cemetery. Many came simply to show their support for veterans on Memorial Day. About 20% of the 4,500 people buried at St. Thomas cemetery fought in the armed forces.

No one in Noreen and Mike Schelstrate’s family is buried here. But the couple’s son is a Marine, and Mike Schelstrate was in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He has three brothers who served in the military. Members of Noreen Schelstrate’s family have served, too, so they wanted to participate in the rededication.

Paula and Gene Marano will be buried at St. Thomas one day, but that’s not why they came to the cemetery Sunday.

“It’s been a tradition that we participate in Memorial Day celebrations,” Paula Marano said.

The Maranos’ son has served 22 years in the Air Force. Gene Marano served in the Air Force for a decade. He was stationed in Thailand in 1968 and 1969 and flew bombing missions over North Vietnam.

Mosier, who led the ceremony, is a veteran. He served five years in the Marines and fought in the Gulf War. He’s had friends, including a roommate, killed in battle.

Honoring those who have sacrificed themselves for a greater cause is incredibly important, especially for Catholics, Mosier said.

“That’s the whole ethos of our faith,” he said.

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