CECI volunteers spruce up historic Grand Rapids cemetery
A beautification project by members of the College of Education and Community Innovation hoped to not only refurbish one of the most historic cemeteries in Grand Rapids, but also build and strengthen relationships among colleagues.
About 60 CECI faculty and staff members and other volunteers spent the morning of October 7 at Grand Rapids’ Oakhill Cemetery to clean some of the 60,000 gravestones on site, paint the 122-year-old management building, plant trees and perform general maintenance and landscaping around the grounds.
Michigan Cares for Tourism, Experience Grand Rapids and the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department partnered with CECI on the project.
The event also provided an ideal opportunity for CECI colleagues across departments to connect, said CECI Associate Dean Paul Stansbie.
“This aligns beautifully with our mission in which the goal is to try and give back to our communities,” Stansbie said. “One of the good things is as people start working, they interact, they talk about the work they are doing and how they are serving the student population within their departments.”
Established in 1859, Oakhill Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Grand Rapids and was designed as a park cemetery, encouraging visitors to stroll the grounds, said Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Superintendent Joe Sulak. Oakhill served as the first Jewish cemetery in the city and is the final resting place of several Civil War soldiers and veterans.
Sulak said the cemetery, which features 54 species of trees, was recently designated as an arboretum by the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and the Morton Arboretum in Chicago.
“In this cemetery, it’s primarily white oak,” Sulak said. “From a forest perspective, white oaks do not regenerate well in urban environments, so to have more than 50 percent of trees as white oaks, it’s highly significant.”
Stansbie envisions an annual beautification project for CECI volunteers and continuing the college's relationship with the Grand Rapids parks department and Experience Grand Rapids. Then, there’s also the added bonus of nurturing camaraderie across CECI departments.
“It’s ideal to continue building those connections amongst our peers,” he said. “It was organized by our College Advisory and Communication Committee, so I think one of their goals is to develop that sense of community amongst our peers and the college.”