Saturday morning at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Hays, Pamela Grizzell opened the hatchback of her sport utility vehicle and asked her sister, Patricia Drees, “How many graves do we have here dear? Is it 50?”
The two are fifth-generation natives of Hays, and seventh of Ellis County.
They were among the handful of people readying graves Saturday morning in the Mt. Allen and St. Joseph’s combined cemeteries at 27th and Vine streets.
With only two days to go until Memorial Day, and despite rain still in the forecast, many of the stone monuments were already cascading in color with wreaths of both real and artificial flowers, or outfitted with flags, flower-draped crosses and vases full of bouquets.
“We have a harvest of peonies in the back of the car,” Grizzell said. “And this is just one yard. We have two more yards to harvest today.”
Still, it was unlikely they’d have enough fresh flowers for all the graves, they said.
“We’ll see who’s left and come back with fake flowers,” said Grizzell.
Being at the cemetery brings back good memories, the sisters said. They’ve been decorating since they were kids.
“We have peonies because great great granny Leiker had peonies,” Grizzell said.
That’s Anna Leiker, Drees explained, as the two speculated on Leiker's exact relationship to one of the original Volga German scouts to the area.
Many of the standard German names in Hays are represented in their family, they said, although they don’t remember all the exact connections.
“Why did I think there are some Schumachers in there?” asked Drees.
“And a Staab?” replied Grizzell. “Well, we’re related to everybody.”
The family pyramid, nowadays, is an upside down one, said Drees, explaining “We have more in the cemetery than alive.”
The sisters’ maiden name is Penka. Their mom, Judith, is the local one, while their dad, Jerald, who died in 2011, came from western Kansas.
“My mother was a Weltz,” said Grizzell. “The Weltzes founded Catharine.”
Carol and Daryl Groen, Hays, were at a grave where they’d placed a cross and a flag, and were adding more flowers.
“This is my mom and dad, Ed and Ann Dreiling,” said Carol. “Yes, I miss them dearly. I can remember coming out here with my mom, it’s something we’ve done for a long time. It’s kind of funny how the roles keep moving, passing from one to another.”
Ruth Moore, her husband Bob, and sister-in-law Charlotte Hoffman, Hays, were at the grave of Ralph and Juanita Dreiling.
“I like cemeteries,” said Bob, “there are a lot of nice people here. I’m serious.”
Hoffman said they would decorate about seven graves Saturday, including that of her husband, who died when he was 53.
“As a matter of fact, this month, the 15th of May, he’s gone 24 years,” Hoffman said. “I’m doing alright, I think a lot about him as far as that goes. I wish he could have seen his grandchildren. He never got to meet any of them, or see his daughter graduate.”
A tombstone with American flag pinwheels, flowers and a cap was that of Parker Devon Goldsberry, April 4th, 1994 - September 9th, 2018.
“The world is diminished because you are gone, but better because you were here,” his inscription read.
Veterans tombstones already were decorated with flags, thanks to volunteers from the Veterans for Foreign Wars Hays Post 9076 who Friday placed the flags, including one on the grave of U.S. Navy veteran Clarence E. Riedel.
One flag rustled slightly by the light breeze Saturday, was at the grave of Edwin A. Schumacher, PT 29 Marines 6 Marine Div, World War II, Feb. 27, 1924 to May 18, 1945.
And another at the tombstone of Cpl. Alfred G. Pfannenstiel, born Nov. 22, 1920, at Antonino, the son of George and Martha Pfannenstiel, both deceased.
“Entered service of our country Oct. 24, 1942,” the inscription read. “Lost his life while crossing the English Channel June 29, 1944.”
Adele Shaver drove up in her pickup with a bed sprouting containers of fresh and artificial flowers. Among them was a small bowl of peonies.
“That’s going to be for my mom, my grandma, my aunt and my husband,” Shaver said. “He passed away in 2001, so I’ve been in the grave decorating business for quite awhile.”
She had flowers for 23 graves, most of them relatives, some friends. She remembers when her aunt, Nancy Madden, and her grandma, Marina Madden, brought the flowers.
“They trained me to do it, I know where the bodies are,” Shaver said. “We for years did peonies, my grandma had wonderful peonies.”
Lori Schmidtberger, Victoria, had stopped briefly to put geraniums on the grave of her father, Earl Pfannenstiel, who died May 1, 2000.
“It was his favorite flower,” Schmidtberger said. “I do it all year long, I try not to let the flowers get all rattled up. My dad just loved flowers, so it’s nice to keep them there.”
He was 72 when he died.
“That was so young, and for years I hated May Day,” said Schmidtberger. “Then my grandson was born on May 1, and it was kind of like an angel was bringing him to me.”