November 25, 2020 – Hartford, WI – City officials in Hartford lured Rex Melius to the Tuesday night Common Council meeting by asking him for a report on headstone cleaning… and they told him there would be cake.
Melius responded but instead, the City of Hartford surprised him by designating November 24, 2020 as Rex Melius Day honoring him for his work with The Cemeterians to clean headstones and pay tribute to veterans through his work in local cemeteries.
Rex Melius, 70, of Hartford is a great historian with a sharp recollection of growing up in Slinger. Melius is knon to many as the Cemeterian. “It is my new-found career that I stumbled upon purely by accident,” he said.
During the summer Melius can be found working in cemeteries across Washington County.
“I went to see my mother’s grave, June Schneider Melius, in Sheboygan Falls the day before Mother’s Day and noticed all this stuff growing on the headstone. I could hardly read the stone and she had only been gone 12 years,” he said. “I started researching what was on there and how to remove it and a group popped up on the Internet on how to clean headstones.”
Melius contacted them and the rest is history.
“I was just going to clear my mother’s stone but I ended up cleaning my grandparents, my great grandparents, my great, great, grandparents and I really enjoyed it and just kept going.”
Melius can list the names of local cemeteries.
“I went to Union Cemetery in Slinger and we cleaned stones in Pleasant Hill Cemetery; the second oldest cemetery is Hartford Union and I cleaned stones at Pilgrim Rest,” he said.
Melius is dedicated. When he was introduced to the Civil War recognition effort in Washington County, he cleaned all 99 Civil War headstones at Hartford Union Cemetery.
“I like doing this because when you have a talent you can share you expect nothing in return,” he said.
Having started as the Cemeterian in 2017, Melius has cleaned between 2,000 – 3,000 headstones.
His work has also inspired others to get involved. “I have one gentleman who is cleaning all the Civil War veterans’ stones. He just finished West Bend Union Cemetery and now he’s working on Holy Trinity in Newburg,” said Melius.
In one instance, Melius was working with a World War I veteran’s marker and the grave gave way. “Four inches of the stone were visible but in reality, that marker was over 3-and-a-half feet below the surface,” he said.
The weight of a stone many times is the deciding factor on how effective Melius will be at leveling a marker. “The bases are like an iceberg,” he said. “Years ago, they just dumped in stones with concrete on top and then set the stone. Over 100 years later some of them are tipping so we try to straighten them and give them a gravel base.”
The response Melius has received for his goodwill has been extremely positive. “People are very encouraging, especially the families of the veterans are grateful we’ve cleaned their stones,” he said.
The community service is strictly funded by donations. Melius said that comes in forms of money or product or helping volunteer.
Melius is a veteran as well. “I enlisted in the Navy when the Vietnam War was reaching a high death count,” he said. “I was just 19 years old and I was in boot camp for one month when my draft notice came in the mail. My mother wrote on the envelope, ‘You already got him’ and she sent it back.”
Born and raised in Slinger, Melius was the fifth of seven kids born to Miles and June.
June Melius was the one who kept her kids in line. “My mother was very strict,” he said. “We all knew how to wash, we had to help iron, clean and cook.”
Melius said his mother’s strengths were her cleaning and organizational skills. “Everything had to be put away,” he said. “If you didn’t make your bed in the morning, the next day you made everybody’s bed.”