Not many five-year-olds know what a Civil War gravestone looks like, but Joshua Graper of Crown Point certainly does.
“When we volunteer at Oak Hill, we play, "I Spy" and Josh knows that union shield,“ laughs Josh’s mother, Kara Graper. “You have to get creative when it comes to kids. I mean how do you keep your kids active in a cemetery?“
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond has close to 100 known Civil War Veterans buried there. Kara started the Oak Hill Cemetery Restoration Project in 2010.
Through this project the Graper family has been raising funds for G.A.R. medallions for the Civil War soldiers at Oak Hill as well as replacing headstones. G.A.R. stands for Grand Army of the Republic and was the precursor to the American Legion that we know today. To date, the Grapers have been able to purchase 40 medallions and two headstones.
“Kara and Adam have made a huge difference at Oak Hill," said George Kovacich of Highland. "The cemetery was in horrible shape until the Grapers became involved. They spent countless hours making calls and writing letters and their work has paid off.”
Kovacich and his wife Dawn have worked closely with the Grapers on Oak Hill restoration photographing around 15,000 gravestones over 16 acres.
George said he has watched the Grapers and their children organize clean ups and look for veterans gravestones to place flowers.
"This was not just during veterans day but at all times of the year,” said George.
Kara Graper was awarded John B. Curley Community Service Award in 2012 for her restoration efforts at Oak Hill Cemetery.
Chrissy Terry of Hammond is a volunteer for Oak Hill and has also worked with the Grapers.
“I really could not think of a better family that instills patriotism than the Grapers. Kara not only shares her passions with her kids but teaches them to respect the sacredness of cemeteries and the value that can come from serving your community,” said Terry. “They are giving their kids valuable knowledge about how many amazing things have taken place right here in Lake County, which I think is a big part of patriotism, being proud of the wonderful, smaller places that we come from, which make up this great country that we live in.”
Six-year-old Ava Graper can tell you about one of those amazing things that happened right in her hometown. "Grandpa brought the tank over here." Ava is referring to the M-4 Sherman Tank at the WWII Triangle Memorial on North Main Street and East Goldsborough Street.
“His name was Jerome Huber and he was Adam’s grandpa. Everyone called him Papa," said Kara.
Huber was the Treasurer for the Crown Point American Legion Post #20 for several decades.
"He and his brother Ralph Huber were instrumental in helping to raise the funds needed to purchase and dedicate the Sherman tank in 1953 in memory to all that served their country that Freedom shall not perish from the earth,” Kara said. “The tank is pointing North, or away from the city as if it is symbolically ready to defend our city, just as our men were.”
To further educate their children about the Civil War the Grapers took a trip in March to Springfield, Ill. to see President Abraham Lincoln's Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery and visit The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
“No one sums up American and Midwestern ideals more than Abraham Lincoln—a poor self-taught lawyer who grew up in obscurity but still knew his value and worth in the world," said Adam Graper. "What better way is there to teach your kids that they can grow up to be the president of the United States than to show them how one did?”