The tradition of laying wreaths to honor our veterans during the holiday season began in 1992, when Morrill Worcester of Worcester Wreath Company (Harrington, Maine) was stuck with a number of extra wreaths at the close of the holiday season. Remembering a boyhood trip to the Nation’s Capital, and the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, he donated 5,000 wreaths to be placed at the headstones of an older section of the cemetery.
What began as one man’s gesture, has now grown into a national movement - when in 2007 Wreaths Across America was formed as a non-profit. Today, more than 3,100 locations participate on a Saturday in December in laying the wreaths out of remembrance and respect for our nation's brave servicemen and women.
Each wreath is sponsored by individuals, organizations, or businesses. Each sponsorship lays one wreath in Memory Gardens.
The People Behind Sioux Center Wreaths Across America!
AARON VAN BEEK | Director
Meet Aaron Van Beek, the Sioux Center Wreaths Across America Director. Aaron first learned about Wreaths Across America after a trip to our nation's Capitol during the summer of 2014. After learning that this program was available nationwide, Van Beek decided to start it up in Sioux Center in 2015. Van Beek is currently the President & CEO for Midwest Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that takes veterans out to Washington, DC free of charge to see their memorials. Previously, Van Beek taught 3rd grade at Kinsey Elementary.
"Sioux Center's respect for veterans has always been something I've noticed even at a young age. Always participating in the Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony here in Sioux Center, I got a glimpse of where our community stands when it comes to our veterans, their families, and our great nation. This organization wouldn't exist without the support of our community - they are the ones who sponsor veterans. Some of these sponsorships come from close family and friends while others come from younger generations wanting to do their part." Van Beek noted that since its start, Sioux Center and Carmel have been covered with wreaths for every mapped veteran since Sioux Center Wreaths Across America was started back in December of 2015.
Of the over 3,000 locations nationwide, Sioux Center is one of only a handful of local cemeteries that participate. Most of these are state and national cemeteries. Van Beek noted that while we may not have the largest wreath count when compared to some, we certainly have the best team and best community for this annual project. Van Beek has appeared on the weekly national webinars to give other locations nationwide ideas on how to make their program the best. He has also designed other locations' social media and webpages to make it user friendly while having a professional and modern look. In 2021, he started the South Dakota Veterans Cemetery Wreaths Across America program.
ELAINE LEUSINK | Associate Director
Meet Elaine Leusink, the Sioux Center Wreaths Across America Associate Director. Elaine first heard about National Wreaths Across America a few years back. Shortly after this she was contacted by the Sioux Center Boy Scouts that they were going to get involved with our organization and was invited to attend the first National Wreaths Across America Day in Sioux Center back in December 2015. Leusink and her husband Bill live in Sioux Center and have four children, one son-in-law, two daughter-in-laws and four grandchildren. She notes the two of them love spending time with family and their family loves opportunities to meet and visit with our veterans. Elaine also serves on the Midwest Honor Flight board.
When asked what made her want to get involved with WAA, Elaine responded, "I was just super excited about the thought of doing something for our veterans, these men and women deserve all the honor and respect that we can give them. I had been looking for a way to honor my son. I am a Gold Star Mother and with my involvement with this organization and what it stands for, it allows me to feel close to my son and what he fought and died for."
Wreaths Across America and the Gold Star Mothers Organization have always had a great relationship nationally. As a Gold Star Mother, Elaine added this, "Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Families understand in a way that no one else can as to what military families sacrifice. When one of their son's decides to commit their lives to the military, it is a family commitment. There are times that things in our lives are second because their duty to their country comes first. Gold Star Mothers have given one of their most precious gifts to our country, so it is only natural that when the ultimate sacrifice is made, we feel extremely committed to the nation that this sacrifice was made for. Our sons' did their duty with honor and pride and we will continue to carry on that legacy any way that we can."