‘This is where I belong:’ Washington County man finds his passion — cleaning and restoring headstones

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Rex Melius

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A Washington County man is on a monumental quest to breathe new life into cemeteries in southeast Wisconsin.

Rex Melius spends around seven days a week restoring headstones at eight Washington County cemeteries in the Washington County area.

“It probably took me 67 years to realize it, but this is where I belong,” Melius said while instructing volunteers at Union Cemetery in Hartford.

Melius began his newfound passion of restoring weathered headstones last year. He went to visit his mother’s grave and found it nearly unrecognizable.

“She had been gone for 12 years. I couldn’t understand why it had been so difficult to read,” he said.

He cleaned her headstone, before moving on to more family. With research and networking, it has morphed into a mission.

“It gives me another reason to get up in the morning,” Melius said.

Volunteer Robyn Wimmer cleaned the faded headstone of Lucy Peck, who died in 1882.

“I think she would really appreciate us being out here,” Wimmer said.

Melius said he believes each stone has a story.

“There are hundreds of people buried here and there are a thousand stories to be told,” he said.

His son Josh does whatever he can to help.

“It’s a way to give back to people who have done a lot for us in the past that are kind of forgotten and lost in time,” Josh said.

When he's not scrubbing, lathering, or spraying stones, Rex Melius makes major repairs. Transforming tombstones is his life’s work.

“I used to think ‘what is my purpose?’ and I think I found it," Melius said.

Melius is able to complete the job thanks to grants and donations. In September, he’ll help host a cemetery tour at Union Cemetery to show off all that’s been restored.

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