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A family affair
Going to Arlington National Cemetery is like coming home for the landscape professionals who volunteer each year at Renewal and Remembrance.
Now in its 20th year, the National Association of Landscape Professionals event has evolved into a family reunion of sorts, where people from all across the industry come to pay their respects, donate their skills and reunite with one another. And the family has grown too. Since 1996, attendance has gone from about 50 attendees to 580 today.
“This is our chance to do with actions what can't be put into words,” said Weed Man's Phil Fogarty, who spearheaded the first Renewal and Remembrance event in 1996. “Our work is a way of letting families know we refuse to forget.”
And it truly is a family event. Families make a vacation out of the service opportunity, including their spouses and children in the trip to Washington, D.C., both to serve and to spend time together.
Brett Lemcke, NALP president, brought his wife and his children: twin 3-year-olds and a 5-year-old. He said he loves the camaraderie, the teamwork and the respect for the grounds from the volunteers. “This whole association is a family to me and this event is a good mid-summer way to say hello to everybody and have some fun,” he said, adding that he admires the passion of the volunteers who work hard to make this event happen.
Sabeena Hickman, NALP CEO, said she fell in love with the event the second she came to her first one eight years ago. “There aren't a lot of events you put on besides your own wedding where you get goosebumps like this,” she said.
“It makes me feel so good about the industry that I serve,” she said, noting that this is the busiest time of year for landscapers. “It shows you that they have such a high priority in terms of giving back to Arlington National Cemetery. So it just makes you feel proud.”
The event, sponsored by Caterpillar, New Holland, Dow AgroSciences, Kubota, John Deere, Nufarm and others, has evolved from lime applications to include work like spreading phosphorus and doing aeration while also performing arbor work, hardscaping and irrigation adjustments.
Passing on the spirit.
Miles Kuperus, Jr.,and his family had never been to Arlington National Cemetery before and had no idea what was in store for them when they arrived 10 years ago.
“It really showcases the kind of heart our industry has and the love of country and the care for green spaces and I think it really embodies everything that we do today so it's natural for us to be involved with this event,” said Kuperus Jr., CEO of Farmside Landscaping in Sussex, New Jersey.
His entire family still comes down and in fact, it's the only time this year they'll all be able to get together for a vacation.
Kuperus's son, Miles Kuperus III, was only 13 when he attended the first event. Now at 23, he works fulltime at Farmside Landscaping and is a leader at the event, focusing on sustainability. He ensures that the cemetery is left as clean as when the volunteers arrived and that as much as possible is recycled. He and his younger brothers ride in their pickup truck to make sure that all of the debris is collected and disposed of properly.
“It was just kind of natural,” he said of his involvement. “We had been doing it for a long time. It's fun interacting with people from across the nation and different companies and it's just a fun time.”
And the family has taken that spirit back home with them. One of Farmside's staff members served in Iraq and when he arrived home, he wanted to honor those who had served and put his ideas to action, talking to Kuperus about starting a monument.
“He said, ‘I opened my mouth and now I have to do something about it,'” Kuperus said.
They called the local chamber of commerce and described the soldier's dream. They build the monument honoring the soldiers who fought in each war that lasted more than a year from the Revolutionary War all the way to the War on Terror.
“I think that's a culture that you bring back to your company as a leader, whether you come down with your family or not,” Kuperus, Jr., said. “It starts a culture and people respect that.”
Bringing others in.
Mike Kravitsky V, owner of Grasshopper Lawns in Pennsylvania, and his son, Michael Kravitsky VI, who was only 6 years old at his first event, have been there since the beginning. “It's just a part of the summer,” Kravitsky VI said. “It's what I've always done. Going to Washington once a year. It's a great experience.”
About 10 to 12 people from the company come down for each event and Kravitsky says he's seen a lot of changes over the years, but they're all for the best. He and his children have both brought in friends from outside the industry just to give them the volunteer experience.
“It's the coolest thing you could ever do,” Kravitsky V said. “To be able to be in Arlington Cemetery and actually work for a difference in that cemetery. It's been 20 years and I still get goosebumps walking through those gates.”