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Less than two weeks after they were honored by the Jefferson County Historical Society, the Laurel Grove “Grave Angels” were treated to sandwiches, sodas and swag bags from Delta Dental of Washington's “Smile Power” tour through the Olympic Peninsula.
Port Townsend native Paula MacDonald and her husband, Mike, initiated the cleanup of the 11-acre Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Townsend in the summer of 2017.
Their efforts not only gained the support of the local Masonic Lodge No. 6, which owns the cemetery, but also helped them recruit a group of volunteers who came to be known as the “Grave Angels.”
Over the past year, the “Grave Angels” and the Masonic Lodge jointly removed nine tons of debris, in 130 pickup truck loads, while also setting headstones and monuments straight, and scouring their surfaces of mold and dirt.
The “Grave Angels” have included not only the MacDonalds, but also volunteers Diane Peters, Rose Johnson, Hunter and Melanie Newton, Asia Martin, Bruce Miller, Karen Erickson, and Tammie and Erik Altemose.
Almost all of them were honored at Chetzemoka Park Aug. 27, receiving everything from oral health supplies to $50 Mariners gift certificates each.
Kristi Ellefson, senior public relations brand manager for Delta Dental of Washington, explained this marked the fourth year of their “Smile Power” campaign.
“We wanted to find a way to engage with the community, and show how smiles are powerful, transformative and contagious,” Ellefson said.
Ellefson noted that close to 150 organizations and individuals had been nominated within Washington for illustrating the power of smiles.
She went on to cite the “Grave Angels” as an example of how community volunteers can make good cheer infectious through inspiring and beneficial deeds.
“We wanted to recognize how awesome they were, because everyone deserves to be thanked for their efforts,” Ellefson said.
In the meantime, Paula MacDonald plans to continue her own cleanup efforts until she dies.
“I work at it until all four corners of their headstones are showing,” MacDonald said. “I'll talk to them, and say, 'Look at you,' once they're all pretty."
To MacDonald, such simple gestures make all the difference.
"To me, it's like they’re smiling when I've finished cleaning them," MacDonald said. "They're happy that other people can see who they are now.”