WADSWORTH — The city will continue to use Woodlawn Cemetery as a launching point for its major community fireworks celebrations.
City council members and the Wadsworth Township trustees voted 9-1 Tuesday evening during a joint meeting of the two bodies in city council chambers to continue allowing the fireworks to be shot off from the 34-acre cemetery along College Street near downtown.
Wadsworth has been shooting off fireworks from an unused, non-gravesite area of the cemetery, which is co-owned and managed by the city and township, since 2014, when the city celebrated its bicentennial. It’s been used six times since 2014.
The joint rule approved Tuesday will allow the continued use of the area of the cemetery used for the depositing of fill, commonly known as the dump area of the cemetery, as a fireworks shoot site location.
According to the rule, only state-certified fireworks exhibitors can use the site, and the cemetery will be closed when fireworks are on cemetery grounds, with only the exhibitors and city safety forces permitted in the cemetery, which was established in 1817.
After the show, the vendor cleans up the shoot site, and the next morning, a team of volunteers clears debris left behind at the shoot site and throughout the cemetery.
City officials have said the site was chosen because it’s close to downtown where people gather to watch fireworks, and years ago, they didn't hear any objections from local churches and veterans' organizations before selecting the site.
They also said they’ve looked at other potential locations, but there were problems such as being too close to residential buildings or too far from downtown.
About 35 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, with seven people speaking in favor of keeping the cemetery, which has 13,000 people interred there, as a fireworks launch site; two speaking against; and one person asking a question.
Roy Boyes, 62, of Wadsworth, who has relatives buried in the cemetery, led a campaign to end the use of the cemetery as a fireworks launch site. Boyes, who’s suggested the launch site be moved to nearby Memorial Park, said he was disappointed with Tuesday’s vote and plans to contact state representatives to push for laws to protect cemeteries from misuse.
“It just shows what the city council will do,” he said. “It's all about money downtown and not about what's right or wrong. ... It's disrespectful.”
Boyes’ stepdaughter, Melanie Gray, said she loves the fireworks but thinks they should be launched from somewhere else.
“The people that it does affect, they've paid to put their family members in the cemetery,” she said. “They put them in there with the trust that they would be cared for and respected, and they do feel very strongly about it, and they can't just exhume their relatives and go move them somewhere else if they're not happy."
Council Ward 1 representative Ralph Copley was the lone no vote Tuesday.
"I truly believe it's disrespectful,” he said. “I have in-laws buried in that cemetery, and I just feel it's the wrong thing to do, and I don't think people are thinking this all the way through. They're putting money before respect.”
Stephanie Saniga, 64, of Wadsworth, said her husband is buried there near where the fireworks are set off — “he would love it,” she said of her husband’s opinion of the fireworks — and she’ll be buried there someday, too.
"I always think of the fireworks on the Fourth of July as part of a patriotic celebration,” she said. “I think it's being done in the most respectful way that is possible in that location."
Main Street Wadsworth Executive Director Adrianne Krauss said the fireworks are not a major fundraiser or a party, and the site is always cleaned up afterward.
“It is a cherished community downtown event,” she said. “It is a very special time for the community to come together in the downtown area.”
Ramona Wonov, 82, of Wadsworth, said her family members were the first settlers in Wadsworth in 1814. Her husband, parents, two sets of grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandfather are buried in Woodlawn.
“They would all love to see the fireworks,” she said. “When I go, I hope the fireworks are still there.”
Contact Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.