Illinois Memorial Day service almost 100 years old


Reporter- Elizabeth Fields
Photojournalist- Tyler Rearden, Barry Stevenson

Temple Hill, Illinois- For the 99th year, people traveled to Temple Hill, Illinois to celebrate Memorial Day.

The church, originally named the Cole Spring Baptist Church, was built in 1872. The cemetery where the services are held was established then too, although it was in 1914 that the first committee was organized and decided to hold a Memorial Day celebration.

Vicki Watson has lived in the area her whole life and said she can't remember a Memorial Day without taking time to remember the hometown heroes buried at Temple Hill Cemetery.

"It's just a wonderful thing to honor the veterans," she said. "The people sacrificed everything for us and they don't need to be forgotten."

The more than 50 veterans were never forgotten, but there was a time when it was uncertain if they would be celebrated. In 1989, Temple Hill Church closed because of lack of interest. However, it was opened once a year for Memorial Day.

"Everyone would gather outside and put the flags out and people would go upstairs and have a pot luck," said Watson. But because it was neglected the rest of the year, every Memorial Day, the church was in worse shape. One year there wasn't even any power.

"The roof leaked, the chimneys were falling down. It just needed a lot of repair. A lot, " she said.

In 2009, there was talk that the church building would be torn down, something Watson couldn't stand to think about. So, she called her friend Sandy Diaz.

Diaz lives in Florida now, but when she heard her friend and her old church needed her, she made the trip back to Illinois.

"I grew up here and as a little girl I had a Sunday school class here," Diaz said. "I've lost quite a bit of my family and I thought this is my last hurrah."

Together the two women took on the work themselves. 

"It took us a good four days just to clear all the junk," Diaz said.  They arranged for the electrical work to be updated and raised the money for a new roof. 

In 2010, the doors reopened and now a small, but growing congregation worships there every Sunday. 
And the tradition of the Memorial Day Service lives on.

Sunday, about 100 people made their way to the restored church. Brother Jerry Parr led worship and then led everyone out to the cemetery where the veterans graves were decorated. The flag was raised and every soldiers' name was read before the gun salute and taps was played.

The only two years there was not a Memorial Day Service at the cemetery was during World War II and both Diaz and Watson hope that remains the case for years to come. 
"I hope it continues to be something very special to the people who used to attend the church they just preserve it and don't abuse it," said Diaz.