Editor’s Note: Wilmington City Council approved the city accepting ownership of Sugar Grove Cemetery from Sugar Grove’s private operating board in 2015, “with the responsibilities therein falling on Wilmington’s Municipal Services Department” the News Journal reported then.
Council made the decision April 2, 2015 during its regularly scheduled meeting, adding rules and regulations to the city’s codified ordinances.
“The Sugar Grove Cemetery Association voted at least a year ago to dissolve itself,” the News Journal reported in 2015. “Ohio law states that when a cemetery’s operating body dissolves, ownership of the cemetery transfers to the municipality in which the cemetery is located.
“The 158-year-old cemetery has seen its fair share of trials, with financial troubles being most prominent,” the News Journal wrote in 2015.
In the November 2, 2021 election, Wilmington residents voted 924-808 (53%-47%) in favor of a new 1-mill property tax to ensure the cemetery and its upkeep is adequately funded for the future. Wilmington City Council member Jonathan McKay stated then, “We are very grateful to the voters of Wilmington for their confidence in this levy. The City of Wilmington takes great pride in Sugar Grove Cemetery, and this levy will help preserve it for generations to come.”
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The Ohio Veterans’ Heritage Protection Act is a new law signed by Governor Mike DeWine designed to protect war memorials honoring those who have defended the United States.
It is the direct result of an attempt over nine years ago by the Sugar Grove Cemetery Association in Wilmington, Ohio to sell two Civil War cannons that are part of a Civil War Memorial called Soldier’s Point located in that cemetery. The focal point of the war memorial is a granite statue of a Civil War soldier flanked by two Civil War cannons mounted on pedestals in a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) burial site.
In November, 2012 when the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) discovered the cemetery was listing the cannons for sale on the cemetery website, Robert E. Grim a past national commander-in-chief of the SUVCW and a member of Henry Casey Camp SUVCW, was asked by the SUVCW Ohio Department Commander Fred Lynch (Lt. Col. U.S. Air Force Retired) to intervene.
Grim, a retired Miami Trace High School American history teacher, a U.S. Air Force Vietnam War veteran and a member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, contacted the chairman of the cemetery board of directors and was invited to discuss the matter at a directors’ meeting.
Grim and Dr. Richard A. Davis, a retired university professor who at that time was commander of the Cincinnati Gen. William H. Lytle Camp SUVCW, and is now the SUVCW Ohio Department Commander, informed the cemetery officials that the cannons were placed in the cemetery by the Wilmington Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) post, and that the SUVCW as the legal heir to the GAR now has title to the cannons.
The cemetery claimed they owned the cannons and were selling them because they were in desperate need of funds to operate the cemetery and planned to continue their efforts to sell the cannons.
Grim engaged an attorney and in December 2013, the SUVCW initiated a lawsuit seeking to stop the sale of the cannons and establish that the cannons belonged to the SUVCW. The cemetery association immediately dissolved itself and went out of business. In accordance with Ohio law, the City of Wilmington became the new owners of the cemetery and became the defendants in the lawsuit.
Over a year later, on July 6, 2015, Wilmington attorney Mike Daugherty (now a member of Henry Casey Camp SUVCW) representing the SUVCW in the lawsuit, reached an agreement with the City of Wilmington regarding the cannons in the Sugar Grove Cemetery.
John W. “Tim” Rudduck, the Common Pleas Court Judge of Clinton County, issued the following order: “The Court orders, based upon the agreement of the parties that the City of Wilmington, Ohio, its agents, assigns, and successors in interest, are permanently enjoined from selling, destroying, or otherwise removing the Soldier’s Point Memorial and/or Civil War Cannons which are a part of said monument without the express consent of the Department of Ohio, Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War.”
In January 2014 while the lawsuit was in progress, Don Grant, a past commander of the Ohio Department SUVCW, and a member of the William McKinley Camp SUVCW in Lancaster (home of famed Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman) convinced his State Representative Tim Schaffer to help the SUVCW.
Almost two years after the court settlement, in June 2017 after working many months with Grim, Grant and Lynch on the necessary language for a bill, Ohio Representative Tim Schaffer introduced in the 132nd Ohio General Assembly the Ohio Veterans Heritage Protection Act as H.B. 48 which was assigned to the House Criminal Justice Committee. However, H.B. 48 died in committee without getting a hearing.
About a year and a half later, in March, 2019, Representative Schaffer introduced The Ohio Veterans Heritage Protection Act as H.B. 155 in the 133rd Ohio General Assembly. That bill was assigned to the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee. Grim appeared before the committee and testified in support of the bill, and because of his work schedule, Don Grant was unable to appear before the committee in person, but submitted written testimony in support of the bill. The bill received a unanimous favorable vote from the committee but was never presented to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
Last year, in February 2021 in the 134th Ohio General Assembly, Representative Schaffer, who is now a member of the Ohio Senate, introduced the Ohio Veterans Heritage Protection Act a third time as S.B. 59, which was sent to the Ohio Senate Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee.
Ohio Senator Bob Peterson (District 17) is a member of that committee and became one of the 23 senators co-sponsoring the bill. Grim appeared before the committee and testified in support of the bill and Grant continued to express his support with written testimony to the committee. It received a unanimous favorable vote, and in April of last year the full Senate approved the bill by a unanimous vote.
In April of last year, a companion bill, H.B. 190, was introduced by Ohio Representative Tim Ginter; Speaker Pro Tempore of the Ohio House of Representatives, and Representative Adam Miller with 36 co-sponsors that included Representative Shane Wilkin District 91 and Representative Mark Johnson District 92.
Grim appeared before the Ohio House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee and testified in support of H.B. 190, and Grant submitted written testimony in support of the bill. When S.B. 59 came before the House Committee, both Grim and Grant testified in support of that bill.
Some language differences between the two bills had to be ironed out, which resulted in a delay in getting a final vote. In the end, S.B. 59 was selected as the final bill which received a unanimous favorable vote in the Senate in December 2021, and a total of 65 senators and representatives signed on as co-sponsors.
This new law applies to all war memorials honoring those who have helped defend the American Colonies and the United States from the time of the French and Indian War to the present; and any future armed conflicts the United States might be engaged in.
The law prohibits all war memorials located on public property or on the property of a cemetery association from being sold, purchased, destroyed, altered, or otherwise disturbed by any person except under some very specific conditions; such as for maintenance or repair and for display in patriotic celebrations.
This new law also authorizes the Ohio History Connection, with the help of local historical societies, to compile and maintain a registry of war memorials.
Commander Richard Davis noted that “without the intervention of the SUVCW the Civil War cannons located in the Sugar Grove Cemetery in Wilmington would now be gone and there would be no Ohio Veterans’ Heritage Protection Act to help preserve our important and sacred war memorials.”