PRESTON, Minn. - The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Preston recently received its results from its National Cemetery Compliance Review. The cemetery was funded with the help of a grant from the National Cemetery Administration. The Preston site tied with an Arizona cemetery for the highest-ranked state veteran cemetery in the nation.
Every 3 to 5 years, the NCA evaluates state and tribal cemeteries. A private group does the assessment for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The Preston site was evaluated on July 9-10.
The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery - Preston received a 98%, earning 91 out of 93 points. The cemeteries are evaluated in 93 areas, ranging from the physical upkeep of the grounds to professionalism, efficiency, and organization. The only two points lost were affected by the winter weather. The Preston site chooses to hold off on placing headstones from winter burials until the snow and ice are gone. "Winter headstone placement is really just not practical out here. We could do it, but we couldn't do it to the standard that we demand and that the families deserve and we would rather do it correctly," says cemetery administrator Robert Gross.
The cemetery also received a 100% accuracy on the Gravesite Assessment Review, an evaluation of the placement of the headstones. Of the headstones that were evaluated, they were placed at the proper height, distance apart, and 90-degree angle.
"You can tell by the scores we got from National, the entire team takes pride in the Preston site. All of us either have a friend or family member or both buried out here so it's our view that we want to do things right to honor these veterans, what they've done for us," says John Dollar, general repair maintenance worker. He oversees the placement of the headstones.
Dollar and Gross credit teamwork for their success. "They all have true empathy," says Gross. "The natural caring, the understanding of why we're here. That is something you either have or you don't have and I can say without a doubt that every single member on this team has that."
On Veterans Day of 2015, the cemetery had its first burials. Since the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery - Preston's creation, this was their first National Cemetery Compliance Review. Gross feels confident the site will do well in future evaluations because the highest standard is the cemetery's staff everyday practice. "Everybody that put on the uniform and their family made sacrifices so it's a very small gesture we can give back, but in our eyes, it's a significant gesture. We want to make sure we're doing it correct out here for every person we take care of and their families," he adds.