ST. CLOUD, Fla. – Larisa Roderick admits she is an avid historian, but her passion for the past has made a difference in the present.
After years of exhaustive research, Roderick applied for and obtained 61 military headstones for veterans buried in Mt. Peace Cemetery in St. Cloud.
"Some of them have been waiting 100 years or more, forgotten in unmarked graves," Roderick said. "Now that they have headstones, they can be recognized for their service."
Sitting under a canopy of oaks, Roderick pointed out the differences in headstone style and recited the stories of the lives they represent.
"I'm the one who digs them up, so to speak," said Roderick, pausing for a moment to acknowledge the awkward turn of phrase. "I find the documentation that identifies them as veterans."
That documentation was necessary as part of the strict application process with the VA.
Roderick, a self-described "research nerd," started looking into Mt. Peace Cemetery history 10 years ago as a favor to a city employee who was looking for more information on Civil War veterans buried there.
"What I saw was chaos. The list was incomplete. It had errors, and I can tolerate my life being upside down in many ways, but I want my spreadsheets neat and tidy," Roderick said with a smile.
The largest group of veterans here may come as a surprise. Four-hundred and twenty-seven Union veterans of the Civil War are buried on the grounds.
Mt. Peace Cemetery was established in 1910 ,shortly after St. Cloud was advertised as a destination for aging Union veterans.
"We're in what was a Union veterans' colony in the middle of a Confederate state," Roderick said.
Her research indicates Mt. Peace is one of the largest non-battlefield Union cemeteries south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Roderick has also identified and applied for headstones for veterans from the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II who are buried at Mt. Peace.
"St. Cloud has the nickname of Soldier City, and it is. It lives up to its name," Roderick said. "I'm the daughter, sister, widow and mother of veterans. Not a veteran myself, but I certainly understand the value of service."
Roderick said the challenge of solving a riddle drives her nearly as much as giving the veterans their due recognition.
"There are some veterans here on whom I've spent literally years trying to get to the bottom of it," she said.
Roderick said her project is nearly done. She thinks she's identified all the unmarked locations. Her findings can be found online at the St. Cloud Heritage Museum website.
"If there's any value to the research I do, it's that they're not forgotten any longer once these stories are brought to light," Roderick said.