GENEVA TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Craig Gentry said he was only trying to help when he and a few other guys repaired 44 headstones at Lacota cemetery. It was awful to hear that teenagers tipped the headstones over and broke them. It was even worse to see that nothing was done to repair them. So they decided to do something about it and officials didn’t like it.
“Geneva Township didn’t want us over here fixing and repairing these stones but they stayed dormant for like three weeks,” said Gentry about the 175-year-old cemetery “I thought that was pretty disrespectful. So we decided to come in and get these fixed up and get them where they should be for the families.”
Gentry said he grabbed his tools and cement adhesive and got to work. He was the first to begin repairing headstones, for families he doesn't even know. He was joined by a few other men later in the week, one of them being the father of one of the teens who damaged the grave markers.
“He just didn’t want this to haunt him either,” said Gentry. “He was a good enough father. He stepped up and said ‘ok.' You know, [took] responsibility."
A week after they were done, Gentry said he received a phone call from the sheriff’s department saying they had received complaints from Geneva Township about the repairs. They told Gentry that township officials didn’t want them at the cemetery at all. Board members even took out an ad in the local newspaper saying they would prosecute not only the vandals but anyone who repaired the headstones too.
Gentry said he was “disgusted” when he found out. They never meant to cause a stir.
"The community appreciates this," said Gentry. "I would appreciate this. You know if I had loved ones here, I'd appreciate somebody stepping in to get this stuff fixed up. But it's clearly the board."
Geneva Township supervisor Nancy Whaley told FOX 17 it was their intent from the beginning to repair the headstones. She said they’ve already hired a monument company out of Benton Harbor to properly repair the headstone. They’re working with an insurance company now and the repairs should begin in early May. As for the teens suspected in the vandalism, she said they “are going to be prosecuted.”
Of the 44 headstones that were damaged, Gentry said he repaired 27 of them with his own hands. A resident in Van Buren county told him that he saved the township $50,000 in repairs. Gentry and the others did it for free and did it to honor the families.
“My father died a month before I was born and to this day he still don’t have a headstone," said Gentry. “My mother’s the same way. She don’t have a headstone. I also have a brother without a headstone. And this bothers me that somebody would come in and destroy what families have put together to lay their people to rest.”