Meet the Duo Who Spend Their Free Time Cleaning Up the Graves of Fallen Soldiers

Updated: Jul. 14, 2023

A college student and a retiree pair up for a good deed—and develop a friendship along the way

Madonna White and Aaron Schultz plant American flags near each cleaned headstone.Sinclair Communications, LLC DBA KGAN-TV
Madonna White and Aaron Schultz plant American flags near each cleaned headstone.

Time has not been kind to the gravesites of veterans in Iowa City, Iowa. Many of the headstones are weathered and covered in dirt and lichen. Others have sunk into the ground. The graves had been neglected, ignored. Not a fitting ­tribute to those who fought in America’s battles, ranging from the Civil War to more recent conflicts. Aaron Schultz, 19, first noticed their tattered state while visiting the grave of a neighbor in 2021.

“They gave their lives to serve this country, and I feel that needs to be honored,” Schultz told KCRG-TV news.

Schultz was determined to spruce up their graves. “People think, ‘Oh this person died in 1965, so his headstone should be dirty,’ ” he told CBS2 in eastern Iowa. “But there’s a way to clean it off and preserve it to what it was.”

He bought a cleaning solution used at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as scrapers to remove lichen and mold. He then began visiting cemeteries, spritzing and scrubbing until the headstones fairly gleamed.

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A friendship formed by a good deed

Schultz posted his handiwork on Facebook. One person who took note was Madonna White, 67. Like Schultz, White has family members who served in the military.

“I was moved by the fact that he had felt that strongly about this,” she told the Associated Press. So, they joined forces, and soon an unlikely friendship blossomed between Schultz, who attends Kirkwood Community College, and White, who is retired. In between scouring and sudsing, White said, “we have great conversations about all kinds of stuff.”

So far, the pair have restored more than 100 headstones. “We’re gonna work on these veterans’ stones until we get them all,” White told CBS2.

Schultz agreed: “It’s a good way to spend your time—doing a good deed.”

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest