Brooklyn Center couple adopts first monument on Gettysburg battlefield

On the battle’s 150th anniversary Diane and Darryl Sannes promise the 1st Minnesota urn will be cared for as long as they live

Diane and Darryl Sannes of Brooklyn Center stand next to the 1st Minnesota urn, which they have “adopted.” The urn was the first regimental monument placed at Gettysburg. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)
Diane and Darryl Sannes of Brooklyn Center stand next to the 1st Minnesota urn, which they have “adopted.” The urn was the first regimental monument placed at Gettysburg. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

In 1867, Minnesotans placed the first regimental monument on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa.

The marble urn, planted with annual flowers and vines, was a simple tribute from the regiment to fallen comrades.

One hundred fifty years after the battle, it’s the only urn remaining on the battlefield. It still stands sentinel over the graves of the 52 Minnesotans buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and a Minnesota couple has promised to keep it looking trimmed and well-kept in the future.

On July 3, the 150th anniversary of the battle’s final day, Darryl and Diane Sannes, of Brooklyn Center, stood next to the monument and announced that, while they live, the urn will be cared for and filled with flowers each year in honor of the Minnesotans who died at Gettysburg.

The Sanneses told an official Minnesota delegation to Gettysburg that they have “adopted” the urn through a partnership with National Park Service and Barb Adams, a volunteer who lives near the town.

“By adopting it now, Diane and I have committed ourselves to making sure it’s taken care of every year and that flowers are put in it, and that they’re watered,” Darryl said.

The urn requires more upkeep than some monuments, because the Vinca major, dusty miller, ivy and geraniums that fill it must be planted each year and watered regularly.

“We had visited before, and it didn’t look as well-maintained,” Diane said. “I want to make sure that it looks nice and it’s maintained all year long. … It’s in a pretty prominent spot within the cemetery.”

The tricky part is the couple lives about 1,000 miles away. They donate money to seed and care for the plants in the urn, but they can’t drive to the cemetery each week to check the monument and water the flowers. That’s where Barb Adams comes in.

Adams has been volunteering at the battlefield for 11 years. Lucas Flickinger, who oversees the battlefield’s monument preservation branch, told Darryl and Diane that Adams might be willing to care for the monument on their behalf. She accepted the responsibility gladly.

Diane Sannes, left, of Brooklyn Center, meets Barbara Adams of Gettysburg for the first time July 3. Adams is the volunteer who serves as gardener for the 1st Minnesota urn. Diane and her husband Darryl started a fund that covers the cost for Adams to put historically accurate plants in the urn each year. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)
Diane Sannes, left, of Brooklyn Center, meets Barbara Adams of Gettysburg for the first time July 3. Adams is the volunteer who serves as gardener for the 1st Minnesota urn. Diane and her husband Darryl started a fund that covers the cost for Adams to put historically accurate plants in the urn each year. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

“It’s a beautiful monument,” Adams said. “It’s just such a tribute. … I just go out and plant the flowers, and the caretakers of the cemetery go around and water it whenever necessary.”

In accordance with the National Park Service rules, Adams makes sure to plant vegetation similar to the original, and she periodically checks the urn throughout the year to ensure it remains neat and the plants are healthy.

“It’s really kind of neat that I can go up there and do this,” she said.

“This partnership with the Sanneses has been great,” Flickinger said. “It’s rare that things all come together like this, where you have documentation (of the original plantings), you have someone who says ‘I can spare a few dollars a year,’ and I have someone able to do it.”

Darryl and Diane Sannes had the idea for adopting the urn in 2011, when they visited Gettysburg to do legwork for a potential trip to the battlefield during the conflict’s sesquicentennial anniversary. Darryl is a member of the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, and an official Minnesota delegation of about 90 members made the trip to commemorate Minnesota’s role in the battle July 1-3, 2013.

During their 2011 trip, the Sanneses discovered that the other two battlefield monuments to the 1st Minnesota regiment had been adopted by a local resident, but the urn had not.

Adopting the urn seemed a natural fit, because the couple has devoted countless hours to preserving and honoring the memory of Civil War soldiers. Both are members of the Brooklyn Historical Society, which operates in the former Brooklyn Township, now Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. The Civil War has fascinated Darryl since fourth grade, and he is the co-author of the three-book set “The Patriots of Brooklyn,” which tells the stories of Civil War soldiers from Brooklyn Township.

He says it’s important to care for landmarks, such as the urn.

“The soldiers from the 1st Minnesota were the first to realize and recognize what their comrades had done, so they felt they had to do something for them,” Darryl said. “The surviving soldiers … thought it was important, so I think all later generations of Minnesotans also need to remember what those men did there and, like them, take care of the monuments and make sure there’s flowers in them.”

“It means a lot to us that we’re taking care of it for Minnesota,” Diane said. “And when Minnesotans come there, they can now know … that it’s maintained by people from Minnesota.”

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]