“They just need a little tender loving care.” Retirees bring new life to old headstones

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MARTINSVILLE, IL. (WTHI) – How about a positive story that teaches a lesson in selflessness. This as two local retirees are putting a unique skill to good use. One that is helping to honor those that have gone before us.

It may sound odd, two best friends spending their afternoons in a cemetery, but it’s what Jim Niksch and Joe Hawker enjoy most.

“It’s something for two old men to do. It’s a feeling of satisfaction too,” said Niksch.

Medsker cemetery in Melrose Township spans three acres. The land is home to more than 580 graves. Many of which belong to civil war veterans who were buried using now outdated techniques.

“It was the best they could do at the time but it didn’t work,” said Niksch.

Since 2010 the duo has been bringing new life to old headstones. This work involves a lot of digging and heavy lifting, but they don’t seem to mind. “We’ve been complimented, so that makes it all worthwhile,” said Niksch.

They have all but mastered the art of stone restoration. Niksch and Hawkers even received professional training, but the passion is homegrown. “My grandparents were very much interested in keeping up the cemeteries of their family. I just picked up on the nuances there and took care of it,” said Niksch.

Area cemeteries do their best to take care of loved ones that have passed, but simply don’t have enough money for restoration.

“We’ve known for years that our stones needed help, but we didn’t know where to go for this help, and now we’ve found it,” said Kathleen Lindstaedt, Treasurer of the Medsker Cemetery Board.

Acting as a saving grace, the two have revived more than 1,200 stones across the Wabash Valley. They offer their services free of charge. “This could be a full-time job. We have a lot of people asking for help,” said Niksch.

After this year the retirees are finally retiring. Though this journey has been a challenge, sometimes all you need to fix what is broken, “Is just a little tender loving care, sometimes a lot of tender loving care, but we get the job done.”

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