SET IN STONE: Eastern Hancock alums’ determined efforts ensure their classmate is not forgotten

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Fourteen members of the Class of 1985 from Eastern Hancock High School gathered Saturday, Oct. 31, at Park Cemetery in Greenfield to see a headstone put in place for fellow graduate Dawn Thompson, whose grave had not had a marker since her death in 2004. Money for the headstone was raised by the classmates, which include, from left to right: Alisa Hamm Littleton, Deb Toloday Spencer, Brenda Ivey Hensley, Andrea Catt, Tracey Williams Smith, Beth Brooks-Bateman, Julie Ashby Spencer, April Herndon Smith, Julie Parish Burchett, Aaron Basicker, Sandi Ray Todd, Laurie West Cochard, Joe Munden, and Brigette Cook Jones. (Brigette Cook Jones | Fort the Daily Reporter) Brigette Cook Jones | For the Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — Fourteen people gathered around an unmarked grave in Greenfield’s Park Cemetery last weekend to set things right.

The group of Eastern Hancock High School graduates from the Class of 1985 came to see a headstone finally placed on the grave site of their classmate, Dawn Thompson, who died in 2004.

Many had lost touch with Thompson, but they were united in wanting to honor her. Together they raised the funds for the headstone and overcame a number of obstacles to have it installed.

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“Everybody deserves to have a headstone or marker at their grave site,” said classmate Aaron Basicker, who now lives near Kokomo.

No matter the miles between them, classmates from a small school like Eastern Hancock feel a special bond that endures over the years, he said.

Basicker wasn’t close friends with Thompson, “but when you’re in a small school like Eastern Hancock, you could say you’re all friends. Everybody is like family,” he said.

“The small-school feeling is something that a lot of people who go to these big schools will never understand.”

That close bond prompted the classmates to raise over $2,000 to purchase a headstone for Thompson, who had no children and whose parents have both died.

Alisa Hamm Littleton first discovered Thompson had no gravestone when she returned to town last fall from her home in Kentucky and visited the graves of the four members of the Class of 1985 who have died.

She reached out to her fellow graduates through their shared Facebook page and hatched a plan: to pitch in and raise enough funds to buy Thompson a headstone.

Another classmate, Deb Toloday Spencer, launched a Go Fund Me campaign, and donations started rolling in.

They hit a roadblock, however, when they were told only a relative can authorize the placement of a marker on the family-owned plot.

Classmate Brigette Jones did some digging through ancestry.com to track down Thompson’s sister in Indianapolis. The classmates reached out to her, requesting written permission to place the stone.

When a response was delayed for months, Basicker contacted the sister last spring and offered to drive to her house to help facilitate the letter, which had to be notarized.

With permission finally secured, a handful of classmates went together to select and pay for a tombstone in June. They were told the stone would be in place within six to eight weeks, but as the weeks went by, the Greenfield business from which they had purchased the tombstone, Greenfield Granite, failed to engrave or deliver the stone as promised.

Classmate Melissa Fletcher Rieskamp drove past the business several times waiting to find someone onsite. Once she did, she produced a receipt and was able to secure the headstone, which was not yet engraved.

The classmates got the stone but lost the money they had paid for the engraving, delivery and set-up, which included a concrete footer. They spread the word through their shared Facebook page to raise funds to cover the expense.

Basicker took the stone to Wearly Monuments in New Castle, and the company worked with the group to get the marker engraved and placed on Thompson’s final resting place.

“I can’t say enough about how quickly the folks at Wearly were able to help,” Basicker said.

“Not only did they help us out, they’ve helped out several other people” who were struggling to finalize headstone orders through the Greenfield business, he said, referring to dozens of complaints from Greenfield Granite customers who said they never received grave markers they had purchased.

“It’s very rare that they’ll set a headstone when people are there; usually that’s something they don’t do, but they were willing to do that for us,” Basicker said.

The classmates gathered under sunny blue skies on Saturday to honor Thompson, as the heart-shaped headstone was installed at her grave. While no service was held, the people who shared much of their formative years together were happy to see their classmate finally memorialized with a marker.

They placed blue and white flowers, in honor of their school colors, in the vase next to the stone bearing her name.

On the back of the stone, they had chosen an epitaph: “Beloved classmate & friend to many.” They also included an Emergency Medical Technician medallion, since Thompson was a certified EMT.

Jones said it was an honor to be there on Saturday, Oct. 31, to memorialize her classmate, who was the first person Jones met when she boarded the bus for her first day at Eastern Hancock schools. The two played in band together, and were among the 101 students to graduate in 1985.

Like Basicker, Jones said there’s a special tie that binds classmates from a small, tight-knit school.

“We didn’t want her to be forgotten,” she said of Thompson, adding that giving their classmate a fitting memorial was simply the right thing to do.