Upgraded vet’s memorial to complement the new city memorial

Joe Bruhn installs the first of 88 flags marking gravesites of war veterans for Memorial Day while Chuck Hillstrom checks the name off the lengthy list at the Vergas Cemetery on Wednesday, May 25.

By Robert Williams


On the outskirts of Vergas, the city cemetery sits quietly overlooking the town, but commuters driving by and visitors who made a cemetery stop over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, got a much-improved view after recent changes.  ¶  While organizers put the finishing touches on the new Vergas veteran’s memorial park in town, the original memorial to those fallen in battle got a needed facelift at the city cemetery.  ¶  The upgrade was due to the efforts of Chuck Hillstrom and Joe Bruhn, members of the Vergas cemetery committee.  ¶  The timing of the recent construction this past week was due to necessity, not because there was another memorial going up.   ¶  “We’re not competing with the one in town,” Hillstrom said.

The city cemetery veteran’s memorial had stood unchanged for the past 25 years and time and the elements had taken a toll. The recent upgrade made a very noticeable difference with a new concrete pad, improved landscaping and new flagpoles.

“What we had up there were pavers,” said Hillstrom.

According to Bruhn, those pavers were due for a replacement.

“They were sinking with grass growing through them and we had a wall in back that had pavers or blocks and weeds were taking over that and the shrubs looked terrible.”

Chuck Hillstrom

The poles were also showing wear or damage that needed to be addressed.

The veteran’s memorial area of the Vergas cemetery was renovated this year with new concrete, landscaping and repaired or replaced flagpoles.

“The main pole was bent a little bit,” said Hillstrom. 

The work was a couple seasons in the making.

“We had talked the last couple years or so about needing to do something,” Hillstrom said. “Finally, this spring we bit the bullet.”

The upgrades were paid for from cemetery fiscal reserves from plot sales, along with a few donations and memorials that were sent in.

Bruhn, a Fargo Air Guard veteran, and Hillstrom did much of the work themselves operating with a limited budget.

The concrete work was hired out, but the landscaping and installation of new poles was done by the two-man crew. 

“If we had been loaded we would have hired for it,” Bruhn laughed.

While the duo and a pair of volunteers had a good laugh talking about the work that was done, the reason behind it and the decorating for the upcoming holiday was about the regard for the soldiers and civilians buried there.

“Respect the deceased for the holiday weekend and to honor them.”

Chuck Hillstrom and Joe Bruhn
Photo by Robert Williams
Chuck Hillstrom, left, and Joe Bruhn continue a family tradition of caring for the Vergas cemetery, including recent renovations of the Veteran’s memorial, along with decorating gravesites with flags for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

The work that both do at the cemetery is a family affair having volunteered to take over care of the grounds after both of their parents did so for decades around the region.

“Our parents did this for years and years before we got involved and they used to do many, many cemeteries in the area,” said Hillstrom. “We kind of took over from our parents in a way.”

The cemetery houses 350-400 gravesites with 88 of those the gravestones of veterans and VFW ladies auxiliary members.

Each of those 88 sites is decorated with a small flag in a starred holder. Later in the week, prior to the holiday, Hillstrom and Bruhn return to install the larger 5×9 decorative flags around the cemetery.