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Ceremonial urn covers offer meaningful dignity

Now available in Lansing for veteran memorials, ceremonies

by Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (March 30, 2019) – Last summer Lansing Trustee Dr. Maureen Grady-Perovich and her husband, Tony Perovich, were in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a reunion with Tony’s Vietnam veteran buddies. They decided pay a visit to the national cemetery there. While visiting, they were approached by the cemetery director, who thanked Tony for his service with a pin and written declaration recognizing Vietnam-era veterans. As they talked with the man, the Peroviches learned about Everlasting Tree, a program initiated by Idaho artist John Sword to provide handcrafted wooden urn covers for use in veteran memorials and burial ceremonies, especially for families who otherwise couldn’t afford one.

Meaningful elements

Sword designed the urns using natural elements, like leaves on the lid replicated in bronze from a leaf collected at Arlington National Cemetery. Incorporated into the base of the urns are soil or sand from battlefields throughout the world, including Normandy and Iwo Jima, where many of those serving in the military were injured or lost their lives.

John Sword’s memorial urn covers for veterans include a bronze leaf replica of actual leaf found at Arlington National Cemetery. Click image to visit John Sword’s blog, Serving Those Who Served. (Photo provided)

The leaves are cast by the same company that did bronze work for the World War II Memorial and the frames that hold the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. constitution, and the Bill of Rights in Washington D.C.
Sword makes each urn cover with his own hands and donates them to be used at national cemeteries. Thanks to the Peroviches’ conversation with the cemetery foreman in New Mexico, now two urn covers have made their way to Lansing, Illinois.

Ceremonial dignity

“What happens is that cremains come back in a plastic box with a baggie inside, and some veterans’ families can’t afford an urn,” said Grady-Perovich. “This gentleman didn’t like the idea that some vets couldn’t afford an urn, especially for the ceremony. He carves these urn covers for veteran ceremonies, and the thought was to donate to national cemeteries in groups of two, since sometimes the veterans want to be interred with their spouse.”

The urn covers are now being used by all of the national cemeteries in the Pacific District and some in the Continental District, as well as several state cemeteries. They’re being used at Pearl Harbor and at least 19 other cemeteries in California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, Montana, and Idaho.

Perovich was interested in seeing them put in use in the Midwest district. She’s been working toward placing them into some veteran cemeteries in the Midwest, but the pair that she received—the first to be used east of the Mississippi River—are right here in Lansing. Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home and American Legion Post 697 have agreed to keep them in their possession and make them available for veteran ceremonies.

Grady-Perovich said that Bob Cole and Don Sciackitano from Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home were impressed by the detail and care that Sword put into making the urn covers. Several weeks ago, they saw an opportunity and asked the family of a Korean War veteran if they would like to use the ceremonial urn cover. The family was grateful and used it at the committal shelter at the cemetery and brought it back to the funeral home. “They [Schroeder-Lauer] recognize what a good thing this is,” said Grady-Perovich.

Giving back

Grady-Perovich was in touch with Sword initially to try and make a donation toward the project, which she said Sword wouldn’t accept. “He said, ‘This is my chance to give back,’ and he provides these urn covers for veterans to use at no cost,” said Grady-Perovich. The decorative cover can be used at funeral homes, private ceremonies, or cemetery ceremonies.

Sword did not serve in the military, but was eligible for the draft in 1971. When the draft lottery was done, he ended up with a number in the 300s, which prevented him from being drafted, but he watched many of his friends go off to war. “I always felt like I owed them because I didn’t have to participate,” said Sword. “That’s one of the reasons I do this.”

He first felt the need when he and his wife were looking for an urn cover for his aunt and couldn’t find one they liked, so Sword made one. Around 2014, he started donating them. He also makes custom urns that are sold through Etsy, but he said about 70 percent of what he makes is donated for veteran use.

“Maureen has gone above and beyond to make this happen” said Sword. “She wanted to know if they could do this around Chicago, and she’s been out there trying to place urns. I hope she keeps doing it. We encourage local citizens to help us in our endeavor.”

He hopes to continue making the urn covers and making them available at more national and state cemeteries. “There’s no way I could do urns for all the veterans, but thought I could make these boxes to make the ceremonies a little more dignified.”

Good use

In March Grady-Perovich presented the second urn cover to Commander Fred Schrum of American Legion Post 697 at their regular meeting. She gave a little background on Everlasting Tree and relayed the story of a recent female veteran who served as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot)—Sword designed an urn cover for her when she was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Village Trustee Maureen Grady-Perovich shows Fred Schrum, commander of American Legion Post 697, the ceremonial urn cover donated by John Sword. Holes at the bottom of the cover contain soil from battlefields around the world, including Normandy and Iwo Jima, where many were injured or lost their lives. The American Legion will keep the urn for use with veteran memorial services they are sometimes called upon to perform. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

“Please put it to good use,” Grady-Perovich told American Legion Post members as she presented the ceremonial urn cover. “It can be used at cemeteries or funeral homes at the discretion of the post, and I hope you’ll reach out to other posts who may be able to use it.”

For further information on the urn covers and Everlasting Tree project, visit everlastingtree.com.

Carrie Steinweg
Carrie Steinweg
Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, photographer, author, and food and travel blogger who has lived in Lansing for 27 years. She most enjoys writing about food, people, history, and baseball. Her favorite Lansing Journal articles that she has written are: "Lan Oak Lanes attracts film crew," "Why Millennials are choosing Lansing," "Curtis Granderson returns home to give back," "The Cubs, the World Series, fandom, and family," and "Lansing's One Trick Pony Brewery: a craft beer oasis."