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Colorado Springs cemetery, memorial site draw holiday visitors who keep memories alive

May 25, 2014 Updated: May 26, 2014 at 8:06 am
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photo - Richard and Lupe Aaragon visit their son Gregory, who died 18 years ago, at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery Sunday, May 25, 2014. They visit every year "just to let them know we haven't forgotten them and that they're in hour hearts and always will be". Photo by Julia Moss, The Gazette.
Richard and Lupe Aaragon visit their son Gregory, who died 18 years ago, at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery Sunday, May 25, 2014. They visit every year "just to let them know we haven't forgotten them and that they're in hour hearts and always will be". Photo by Julia Moss, The Gazette. 

In the quiet of Evergreen Cemetery on Sunday, dozens of people carried out the age-old rituals of Memorial Day, sprucing up grave sites and adorning headstones with flowers while taking time to simply remember someone special.

Anna Kochis, 86, strolled through rows of graves, stopping to pull weeds and admiring the headstones of people whose names she recognized. A sixth-generation Colorado Springs native, Kochis has buried her husband, her grandson and her mother at Evergreen. A burial plot waits for her next to her husband of 56 years, Steve P. Kochis, who died of heart failure at the age of 87 in 2009.

"Memorial Day is there so people can set time apart and come visit their loved ones, spend some reflecting and thinking about them," Kochis said. "It gives me comfort to put fresh flowers on their gravestones and feel close to them again."

Holding a handful of radiant blue and purple hydrangeas, Kochis walked to her mother's grave about 100 feet away from her husband's resting place. The gravestone for Mary Alger, who died at 98 in 1987, was engraved with a small angel.

Kochis has spent time at Evergreen since she was a little girl, she explained. She grew up not far from the cemetery and watched the funeral processions go by her house. She would often wander into the cemetery and watched the rituals, mesmerized.

"Everyone in this cemetery meant something to someone, at least one person loved them in their lives," Kochis said, resting at a granite bench built on her husband's gravestone.

Some people have a lifetime of memories, and some just moments.

For Rob Van Pelt, the eight hours he got to hold his baby daughter before she died were some of the toughest of his life, but also some of the most special.

Brittany Nicole Van Pelt's gravestone was surrounded by flowers and colorful pinwheels spinning with the breeze. Brittany died on Feb. 15, 1997, of congenital heart disease, about 24 hours after she was born. She was rushed to Denver Children's Hospital for emergency heart surgery, but her little heart gave out before doctors could stabilize her.

"I had to carry her down the hallway in the hospital here in Colorado Springs and they took her to Denver," said Van Pelt, 37, remembering his last moments with his daughter. "We had no idea there was anything wrong with her until she was born."

Van Pelt, an emergency medical technician with American Medical Response in Colorado Springs, said visiting his daughter's grave throughout the years has helped him heal while keeping her memory alive.

"I like being able to come out here, it's peaceful. I can sit here as long as I want without distractions and really think about her and the little bit of time I got to know her," Van Pelt said.

Less than a mile north of Evergreen Cemetery, the Fallen Fire Fighters' Memorial Wall of Honor at Memorial Park had a stream of visitors paying their respects to fellow firefighters who died in the line of duty or from work-related injuries and diseases.

Pueblo fire department engineer Eric Knight touched the wall where his colleague and friend's name was engraved. William D. Pine, an engineer with Pueblo fire, died of colon cancer in 2008. Pine was 29-years-old when he died, leaving behind a young wife and a 2-year-old child, Knight said.

"As soon as you met him, you wanted to be Billy's best friend," Knight said holding back tears and proudly showing off the tribute tattoo for Pine on his forearm, a Maltese cross with diamond plate detail and a crack on one side to signify the loss of his brother firefighter.

As a 20-year Air Force veteran, Knight said he knows the strength and meaning of the bonds forged among soldiers and firefighters.

"I think every day should be Memorial Day. I think about someone who has died everyday," Knight said. "We have to stop and remember the people we love who are gone, not for them but for us. We have to keep their memory alive because that encourages us to keep moving forward. That's what Memorial Day represents."

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