If you happen to visit the Rock Island National Cemetery on Arsenal Island this Memorial Day weekend — or any time this summer — be sure to notice the flowers.
While the grass is mowed by staff of the cemetery office, a division of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the flowers are planted and tended by a small group of volunteers organized in 1998 as the Friends of the Rock Island National Cemetery.
The group is down to about eight members, and most are in their 70s, but they are dedicated to their task.
Efforts are concentrated at the two shelters where graveside services are held, at the columbarium (a storage place for cremains), the memorial garden and the Gold Star, Red Star and Purple Heart gardens, president Gary Cameron, said.
The Gold Star, planted with yellow marigolds, honors families whose loved one died, he explained. The Red Star, planted with red tulips, salvia and petunias, honors those whose loved one is currently serving; and the Purple Heart, planted with purple petunias, is for those whose loved ones received the medal for an injury.
The group relies entirely on donations, with receipts this year from the Silvis Garden Club and the Moline Horticultural Society. One chore the group doesn't have to worry about is watering, as there are in-ground sprinklers in the beds.
Group members work in partnership with Sue Jehlen, cemetery director. "We bounce ideas off each other. She tells us things that they'd like us to do," Cameron said.
The cemetery contains 53 acres in which people are buried, with 13.5 acres that remain open, Jehlen said. It is one of 135 national cemeteries nationwide and employs 12 people.
If you are interested in Memorial Day services, they will begin at 4 p.m. on Thursday with the placement of flags on graves. National cemetery ceremonies will be at 10:45 a.m. Monday, May 29, and Confederate Cemetery ceremonies will follow at noon.
And if you'd like to help out with the flowers, call Cameron at 309-781-2789. "We're looking for new people, volunteers, groups or organizations," said.
BEAUTIFUL SIGHT: Dr. Scott Sandeman, author of Paper Trained, our long-running pet column, sent in a photo of a beautiful winged creature he identified as a Polyphemus, or giant silk moth.
"I found it resting on some newly spread mulch a couple weeks ago," he wrote. "Nature is beautiful!"
Internet research indicates that the moth lays eggs on a wide variety of host plants, including birch, willow, maple, hickory, beech, honey locust, walnut and plum, peach, apricot and cherry trees.
When the eggs hatch, small yellow caterpillars emerge. As the caterpillars age, they molt five times. Each instar (caterpillar) is slightly different, but on their fifth and final instar, they become a bright green color with silver spots on their sides. They feed heavily on their host plant and can grow up to 3–4 inches long. They then spin cocoons of brown silk, usually wrapped in leaves of the host plant.
Two broods generally hatch each year throughout the United States, one in early spring and one in late summer.
FIGGE JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER: More and more, I find myself drawn to exhibits at the Figge Art Museum.
In June, artist Jean Shin's installation MAiZE — thousands of repurposed green plastic bottles crafted into cornstalk sculptures by volunteers — will form an elaborate maze on the third floor.
It's supposed to make you think about plastic waste, food choices and environmental stewardship.
Later in the month we get to see Chad Pregracke's "message in a bottle collection" — 40 bottles with messages inside that he has picked up during his cleanups on the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers.
At the end of September there will be an exhibition of Irma Rene Koen, an internationally exhibited American Impressionist from Rock Island. Her legacy was largely forgotten until art historian Cynthia Wiedemann Empen, of Rock Island, recently rediscovered her.
And, as announced in the Figge's summer newsletter, there's a blockbuster opening in October 2018: French Moderns: Monet to Matisse, 1850 to 1950. You won't have to go to Brooklyn to see these "even I have heard of them" artists.
"This exhibition will mark a milestone in the Figge's history, as it will bring works by some of the most beloved names in art history — Monet, Cezanne, Degas and many others — to the Quad-Cities," Figge director Tim Schiffer wrote in the newsletter.
Finally, you have two more weeks to see the amazing installation "Ghost Light" by Chicago artist Jefferson Pinder that explores Quad-City African-American experiences, a first of its kind for the Figge.
It includes a stack of 16 TVs, a large-scale wooden sculpture, video projections, audio and, perhaps most striking, a replica of a barbershop chair and mirror, modeled after Joe's Barbershop on Harrison Street in Davenport.
It's up through June 4.
As Andrew Wallace, manager of collections and exhibitions, noted in an interview with Times reporter Amanda Hancock, viewing the piece may make you feel enriched, disturbed or more thoughtful.
And, once again, admission to the Figge will be free this summer, beginning Saturday, May 27, and continuing through Sunday, Sept. 3. This is thanks to support from the Bechtel Trusts and the John Deere Classic.
It's a great deal.