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This stump is from a giant hackberry tree. It was one of the largest trees that blew down in Chippiannock Cemetery during a windstorm one year ago on July 21. The tree knocked over several grave markers. July 20, 2009. (Larry Fisher/QUAD-CITY TIMES Larry Fisher

Chippiannock Cemetery superintendent Greg Vogele had seen a lot of storm damage in his time, but nothing prepared him for what he witnessed the morning of July 21, 2008.

Everywhere he looked, trees were down, some lying on top of others, a jumbled mess. Two hundred-year-old oaks, newly planted young maples … the

80-mph-plus winds that ripped through the historic Rock Island burial ground had been indiscriminate.

"That first day, when I started to investigate, it was like this huge weight that just kept getting worse and worse and worse," he recalled. "It was overwhelming. You just didn't know where to start."

While about 150 downed trees that posed immediate problems were cleaned up within months, costing the cemetery in excess of $48,000, plenty of damage remains a year later, he said.

Large stumps need to be dug out, standing-but-damaged trees need to be removed, hundreds of toppled monuments need to be righted and replacement trees need to be planted. There's still a big wood pile that people can visit to cut and haul away their own firewood, provided they stop by the office first.

"This used to be full of shade," Vogele said Monday as he drove on a now-sunny cemetery road called Maple Drive. Stopping next to a large mass of tree roots still stuck in the ground - from a black cherry, he said - Vogele pointed to brown patches in the grass where trees once stood.

"You can kind of see where they were," he said. "There were a dozen trees here. And they were huge."

But just as overwhelming as the devastation was, so, too, was the financial and hands-on help the 85-acre cemetery received from the community, he added.

Particularly inspiring to him was the first volunteer cleanup day three weeks after the storm "when people just kept coming up the driveway," he said.

"They were coming from 29th Avenue; they were parking on 12th Street. They had rakes and hand saws. After that first day, (when) I saw how much many hands could accomplish what we (cemetery staff) could not, then I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Volunteer help

Vogele recorded 347 volunteer hours Aug. 9, but that's only a fraction of the help that came forward. The list of major benefactors includes:

Modern Woodmen of America, Rock Island, which provided volunteers on several occasions, as well as 75 free replacement trees.

Individuals who contributed $36,000 to the Chippiannock Cemetery Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports the cemetery. It paid for cleanup work that had to be done professionally or for the rental of big equipment, including cranes.

Valley Construction, Rock Island; A-1 Arborist, Moline; and Eckhardt Trucking, New Windsor, Ill., which did much "pro bono" work.

Crews from three other Illinois cemeteries, the closest being 75 miles away - Oak Ridge in Springfield, Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Freeport and Oak Knoll in Sterling - that came forth with manpower and equipment.

Bevel Granite Co., Chicago, which helped restore monuments.

Bettendorf artist Steve Sinner, who made a vase from a downed persimmon tree, then donated it back to the cemetery for a fundraiser.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which helped find buyers for some of the wood. The profits helped with cleanup.

"In a way, it was surprising, and in a way, it wasn't," Keith Erickson, the president of both the cemetery association and the heritage foundation, said of the outpouring of help for Chippiannock.

Many people have strong personal connections to the cemetery while others appreciate its part in the heritage of the Quad-Cities, he said.

"Today's visitor has no clue to the extent of devastation the cemetery experienced," Vogele said. "The cemetery has all the volunteers and contributors to thank for the progress toward restoration.

"I miss the trees lost to the storm, but I also enjoy the many new vistas opened up. New trees will fill in where trees were lost, and the cemetery remains one of the Quad-Cities' most beautiful sites to visit."

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