Have you ever read the engraved plaque on a bench and wondered — what’s the story behind that? If so, you’re a lot like Joyce Waltz-Umerley, a long-time resident and former city employee researching memorials in Rocky River.
It all started when she attended the city’s 2022 Arbor Day program. “The ceremony reminded me of how many tree plantings and memorials I had observed over 30 years,” says Waltz-Umerley.
After chatting with Mayor Pamela Bobst, she decided to compile a written history of the people behind the names on benches, trees and plaques around town. Bob Holub, the city’s director of recreation, provided her with a list of 30 memorials. Waltz-Umerley thought she might spend a month or so on the project. Instead, it’s grown to include more than 500 memorials, including bricks, chairs and more. The memorials date as far back as 1954, with some individuals having more than one. Eventually, Waltz-Umerley plans to create compendiums that she will deliver to the city.
“This work is so important for the community and such a gift,” says Bobst. “We know now that we need to keep really good records and have people write up a little bit of history about the individual so we have that for future generations.”
The project was a natural fit for Waltz-Umerley, given her interest in history and genealogy. When she discovers new memorials, she researches them online or in old obituaries. Family members, friends or co-workers of those memorialized can often share insight. “Some I still have dead ends on,” she says. “I may never know the answer.”
During her research, Waltz-Umerley uncovered many heartwarming stories, like the story of a bench in Rocky River Park with the engraving, “Lorri and Laurie Sunset Therapy.” These two women have been friends for 35 years and love watching the sunset in the park. Instead of waiting until one of them passed away to have a memorial bench, they decided to commemorate their favorite spot so they could enjoy it together.
There’s also the plaque mounted to the chair in council chambers with the inscription, “Reserved: William P. Welsh, ‘Thank you for your longstanding support of our community.’” It’s where Bill Welsh sat for more than 16 years while attending city council meetings. Before Welsh died in 2021, he was named honorary eighth member of city council. On Monday evenings, Mayor Bobst pats the back of Bill’s chair twice as she enters council chambers.
Some memorials honor well-known residents such as Alex Hamilton, who coached Olympic medalist Jenny Fish, or musician Michael Stanley. Others celebrate lesser-known heroes, like Jacqueline and Marilyn Jauch. The two sisters donated $10,000 toward the restoration of an antique fire truck for the Rocky River Fire Department.
“This project is so meaningful to the community, both for folks that have honored a loved one and our residents that enjoy our parks and spend time learning the special meaning they have to others,” Holub says.
Residents interested in memorial trees, benches and plaques can contact the recreation department at 440-895-2599 or by email at email@example.com, or the Rocky River Senior Center at 440-333-6660.
Familiar with someone who has a memorial in their honor? Please contact the mayor’s office so that information can be added to the compilation.