TRACY – Histories of lost loved ones came to life during a community service project Sunday at the Tracy Community Cemetery.
Along with adult volunteers, Tracy Comet 4Hers spent the afternoon grooming as much of the cemetery grounds as they could in preparation of Memorial Day next week. The youngsters not only learned how to respectively tend to graves, tombstones and markers, they also learned about individual people, families and history in general.
“I’ve always loved cemeteries,” volunteer Sue Ann Moyars said. “I have a great respect for them. It’s full of stories. It’s peoples’ lives.”
Moyars serves on both the 4H service project committee and the Tracy Community Cemetery committee, so melding the two seemed a natural fit.
“It was easy to suggest this to do for a community pride project,” she said. “I thought it was a good idea to bring these kids out here and give them a new understanding and respect for cemeteries.”
After gathering together, volunteers – including 4Hers Kailee Moyars, Jessica Meyer, Jacob Meyer, Anna Johnston and adults Kent Johnston, Elaine Fischer, Elverne Ziemke, Susan Meyer and Bart Meyer – used pails and wheelbarrows to pick up sticks.
“I’m picking up sticks and looking at tombstones,” 8-year-old Jacob Meyer said. “Later, I’ll probably pick up some more sticks.”
Then the volunteers settled in on a long row of flat markers, many of them nearly unobservable, along one of the gravel paths.
“The sad part about it is that many of these are covered up and no one even knows they’re here,” Moyars said. “You can’t even see the people’s names because the flat markers can become overgrown very fast.”
Using spades, edgers, putty knives, hoes, pails and brushes, volunteers gently unearthed more and more partially-hidden markers, beginning with the Klocow family plot. An adult son, Fred C. Klocow (1905-1939) was unearthed first, followed by, what everyone deduced was, his baby sister Irene D. Klocow (1909-1911).
“You have to be careful so you don’t scratch the granite,” Moyars said. “You look for the edge of the cement and go slowly. It’s more about quality than quantity.”
Moyars believes that others will also appreciate the tender loving care the group spent on the markers.
“Hopefully there still family in the area who come out for Memorial Day and say, ‘someone found our grandparents’ or someone they knew,” she said. “We all have relatives out here.”
Next to Fred and Irene, the volunteers later found out, were the parents – Hannah (1884-1954) and Elmer (1878-1959).
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Jessica Meyer said. “When I heard we were going to do this, I was like ‘this should be interesting.’ But I like that we get to help around the community.”
With her mom’s love and respect for cemeteries, it wasn’t surprising that Kailee Moyars had helped clean up cemeteries before. She even had an edge on doing it properly.
“I think people will appreciate it,” she said.
While some worked on the Klocow markers, Kent Johnston was unearthing another set of family stones. After dusting off a marker for August (1848-1922), he used a knife to search for additional markers nearby. It didn’t take long before he hit pay dirt.
“I feel like an archaeologist,” Johnston said.
Before long, Johnston had uncovered the marker for Matilda (1852-1934), which was entirely covered with dirt and grass.
After watching and helping Sue Ann Moyars and Kent Johnston unearth the markers, some of the kids continued on their own.
“It’s like a treasure hunt and the kids want to do more of it,” Moyars said.
Jessica Meyer found markers for Oscar F. Schmidt (1891-1918), who was near Paul H. Schmidt (1888-1973), Mother Bertha (1858-1917) and Father Wilhelm (1844-1920).
“I had a hunch there was another marker there,” Meyer said.
Moyars, who has a great deal of knowledge about different types of monuments and markers because she sells them, said she appreciates the beauty of unique, hand-carved stones.
“I love the blue perle, which comes from Norway,” she said. “It takes a total of three different routes on three ships to get here. It has all those little flecks in it so when the sun hits it, it’s so beautiful. It’s also the most expensive granite there is.”
Knowing that in today’s world, letters and numbers are constructed by computers, Moyars is especially amazed at the hand-crafted and artist work on the monuments, including the roped lettering from the early 1900s.
“They didn’t have machines back then, but look at how symmetrical everything is,” she said. “It’s all by hand. And everything in this cemetery has a meaning, whether it’s an unfinished life or purity.”
When other volunteers arrived to help out, some of the kids who had worked for a couple of hours already took a break. Later, some of the others joined them. “I want to find the first person ever born here,” Kelsey Moyars said.
According to retiring superintendent Bernie Holm, Tracy Community Cemetery has more than 3,000 graves.
“The old part is at least 100 years old,” Holm said. “The new part opened up in the 1970s. One of the oldest monuments was put in before 1950. The name was Webb and it’s still in perfect shape. It was a 29-year-old woman who died.”
Many volunteers gathered to pay respects to a three-week-old baby (1896) whose small marker was unearthed during the project. They also found the cemetery’s lone Civil War hero, Elias Howard (1832-1900) in their search.
“I found one where someone died in 1812,” Jacob Meyer said.
The crew also found a number of corner posts, which were popular years ago, when families would buy four plots together at once.
While a lot was accomplished during the afternoon, volunteers made it clear that there was much more work to be done. While Holm has been training in new superintendent David Peterson, who will have his hand full, Sue Ann Moyars said there is no way he, nor the mowing crew, could do all that needed to be done. Recently, the baby area was redone, but a new, $6,500 project to take care of 12 leaning monuments is under way.
“We try to get some money from the families, otherwise it comes out of our budget,” Moyars said. “They have to be fixed this year because we can’t have them falling over. There are also so many that have sunk in because they didn’t require cement vaults back then.”
Donations are appreciated, Moyars said, because there is never enough money to do everything that needs to be done.
“Lots are $375 and so much of that goes in to the perpetual care fund,” she said. “But you can only spend so much of that each year.”
In the future, Moyars would also like to start a “Cemetery Walk,” where drama enthusiasts portray the life of certain cemetery residents for attendees.
“It’s a fun thing to do,” Moyars said. “It’s a great way to find out about people’s lives.”