Graveyards get a lot of attention every October, but for one local teen, there’s nothing scary about them. Ahna Wolff, a sophomore at The Colorado Springs School (CSS), has volunteered hundreds of hours caring for Colorado Springs’ most historic cemeteries and sharing their histories with others. “I believe that one of the best ways you can learn about a place is by learning about its people,” Wolff said.
Wolff began her volunteer efforts within a few weeks of moving to the Pikes Peak region in early 2021. Seeking volunteer opportunities that paired her love of history and writing with a desire to get to know her new community, Wolf discovered Evergreen Heritage. The volunteer organization is dedicated to the history and care of Evergreen Cemetery, which was established soon after Gen. William Jackson Palmer founded Colorado Springs in 1871.
Wolff crafts monthly newsletters with information on volunteer events such as headstone cleaning projects, trash removal and identifying and tagging old-growth roses at the cemetery. She peppers the newsletters and the group’s Facebook page with interesting historical tidbits about the city’s earliest pioneers who have been laid to rest there, including Gen. Palmer.
Wolff also logged more than 300 volunteer hours last summer at the Miramont Castle Museum in Manitou Springs. Her work there regularly includes archiving artifacts, helping with the museum’s social media, designing informational flyers and volunteering in the gift shop at the 1895 chateau.
When she learned that the museum’s director, along with the Manitou Historical Society, wanted to hold a fundraiser to repair damages sustained from vandalism to the nearby Crystal Valley Cemetery, Wolff jumped at the chance to help.
The group is planning for an event next spring, and Wolff plans to lead tours and share details about Victorian mourning traditions. She also hopes to create a preservation society inspired by the existing one at Evergreen and envisions the volunteer group helping with projects such as laying wreaths on veterans’ headstones as early as this December.
“As a Colorado Springs native with paternal roots deeply set in Manitou, the name Crystal Valley Cemetery caught my eye,” says Amy Miller, a CSS English teacher who tracks community service hours for Upper School students. “I have several family members buried there, and rarely do I see anyone who knows of the cemetery’s existence, let alone a dedicated young person who volunteers on its behalf. My personal thanks go out to Ahna for caring for a place that is dear to my heart.”
What began as volunteer opportunities have led to much more for the 15-year-old, including connecting with people who share similar interests.
“I have really fallen in love with Manitou, as well as with Colorado Springs, and I know that they wouldn’t be what they are today had it not been for the people who founded and cared for this community first,” Wolff said. “So, in a way, I would say that my heart is attached to it.”
Already this school year at CSS, Wolff has far exceeded her 18 required Upper School community service hours. Since May, she has submitted 330 hours with many more to come. She hopes her efforts will help others discover and appreciate the unique history that cemeteries hold.
“I feel that the projects I work on and the help I give, no matter how big or how small, are my way of showing gratitude to the people who created the communities and the environment I am so lucky to be able to treasure today,” Wolff says. “In this, I also feel drawn to encourage others to experience what I have found through volunteering.”