Mary Shafer, left, and Jenny Cernohous, right, water cemetery plants to raise money for local Councils of Catholic Women. (Joe Winter/Catholic Herald photo)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

A married couple of lifelong St. Patrick, Hudson, parishioners who operate a local nursery continue to offer signup for providing commemoratory plant pots and watering services at three large Catholic cemeteries, with the proceeds going to the local Councils of Catholic Women.

The scope of this effort, provided by Jennifer Cernohous and her husband, John Cernohous, also includes St. Bridget’s in River Falls. This service is rare – even for a bigger nursery company – and their nursery is run by just the two of them. Their volunteerism also includes Willow River Cemetery in Hudson.

One of their first clients in this effort was a family from Montana, and Cernohous soon taught groups working to improve their communities with similar services.

A group of parishioners from St. Patrick’s soon volunteered to help her with the job in their cemetery, but Cernohous does the work at the other two graveyards herself. A lot of communication exists to coordinate between her and the volunteer workers to make everything run smoothly. As other people view various gravestones and learn their stories, they have become interested in the project.

When the weather warms in late May, the couple creates pots at their nursery, then transports them several miles to be planted. If parishioners and others make such requests, the Cernohouses will mix in special colors and plant types with their standard flora arrangements.

Through their business, Cedar Valley Nursery, they have been planting trees since 1993 and selling them since 2004; the couple has been providing the cemetery service for three years.

The watering effort began during the pandemic lockdown, when Cernohous was the president of the CCW board.
“The board was very discouraged when we were told that our parish had to cancel the majority of our service projects. However, the CCW still wanted to find ways it could serve our parish,” Cernohous said. “I brought this concern to our pastor, and asked him to let me know when he heard of a need where we could help.”

That didn’t take long. The family in Montana asked if watering is provided at the St. Patrick’s cemetery or could be provided.

“The family wanted to have a plant at their parent’s grave site, but they lived too far away to maintain it,” Cernohous said. “We brainstormed different ways we could make this work. I also talked with the family from Montana,” she said, and all agreed to have the plant watered once a week in the summer.

“God has really blessed Cedar Valley Nursery in many ways, and John and I wanted to show our thanks by finding a way to give back to our church. When this need came to our attention, we found a way to bring together our business and the women of the CCW,” Cernohous said. “This part of our business is not a money-maker for us. We offer this to bless those in our parish. Those that contact us are so appreciative for this service and are relieved that they will have something beautiful at their loved one’s grave.”

The Cernohous family provides a 12-inch ceramic cemetery pot, a black cast iron stand, the flowering arrangement and storage for the pot in the winter. The flower arrangement consists of three geraniums, and spike and a vinca vine – but they are also open to creating arrangements using other flowers.

“At the end of the season, we go out to the cemetery to pick up the pots for the families who want us to store it,” Cernohous said.

Some families provide the plant and only want the watering service.

“We accommodate what works for them,” she said.

The pandemic in a way opened a door for the CCW.

“It was a perfect way for them to serve during the pandemic, because they would rarely come in contact with anyone while they were watering,” Cernohous said. “The women were excited to be part of this. So many women wanted to take part that there were not enough weeks to accommodate them all.”

Everyone ended up taking a week.

“To remember where the gravesites were, a green ribbon was tied to the stand. It was a great color, because it really represented St. Patrick,” Cernohous said.

During the last three years, the area has been in severe drought.

“Many of us have experienced the challenge of keeping up on watering. But the women who signed up to water did not let this stop them … The women would come daily and water the flowers,” she added. “They also dead-headed the geraniums so the plant arrangement always looked nice.”

Beyond assigned flowers, volunteers watered nearby plants that were struggling.

“The flowers looked wonderful and healthy all summer long despite the drought. I also go out every two weeks to fertilize. When I do, I can see how seriously the women take this ministry. I have never come across a struggling plant,” Cernohous said, adding that they serve about 25 families.

“The feedback from parishioners and the families using the service has been so positive. Our secretary (who works to administer the cemetery) even said, ‘How nice it is to see people out at the cemetery again.’ What makes this service different is that Cedar Valley Nursery looks at it as a ministry,” Cernohous said.