County cemetery group asks for funds

O’Brien County Cemetery Preservation Association treasurer Eunice Wilson talks to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 5. The group is looking for increased funding from the county for fiscal year 2019-20 to further its preservation cause.

PRIMGHAR—The O’Brien County Cemetery Preservation Association is looking for increased funding from the board of supervisors.

Two of the organization’s members — vice president LeRoy Steffens of Hartley and treasurer Eunice Wilson of Primghar — met with the supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 5, in Primghar to talk about the group’s budget request for fiscal year 2019-20.

The main mission of the association — an independent nonprofit organization of 15 volunteers that began during the fall 2017 — is to locate, record, restore and maintain all of the pioneer cemeteries in the county.

According to Iowa Code Section 331.325, a pioneer cemetery is defined “as a cemetery where there have been 12 or fewer burials in the preceding 50 years.”

The association started working last year on bettering Covey Church Cemetery, which is located about eight miles south of Hartley at 6597 400th St.

The improvements have included new road signs along county blacktops nearby that point the way to the graveyard.

“We have the directory sign, which will include everybody’s names, dates of birth and death, and where they are in the cemetery,” Wilson said. “We’re going to do that for each cemetery.”

The group plans to restore, preserve and maintain the county’s pioneer cemeteries and the gravestones in each one by cleaning up intact stones, putting together and re-erecting broken stones, and erecting new stones in instances in which the exact burial locations are known, but there are no existing markers.

The association’s $20,000 budget request for fiscal year 2019-20 included $16,800 for repairing the pioneer cemeteries’ broken gravestones.

“The pioneer cemeteries have not been cleaned up at all ever that I’m aware of,” Wilson said. “A lot of the stones are broken. They’re tall and narrow. They’re broken in half. We’re trying to preserve all of them that we can.”

The organization has talked to two monument companies about repairing the pioneer cemeteries’ broken gravestones.

“They say you can’t fix them,” Wilson said. “They’re a soft stone. We’re looking at doing small granite pieces for those that are so destroyed that we can’t repair them. They typically come around $300 to $400 each for a small granite stone.”

The association has 56 gravestones in various states of disrepair that it wants to repair, restabilize or replace across five pioneer cemeteries in the county.

“We’re hoping eventually to be able to identify all of these and replace the stones that are so bad that we can’t fix them,” Wilson said. “We’re doing as much as we can ourselves.

“The conservative estimate was $300 a stone,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that’s set in stone — pardon my pun. We’re trying to get as much done as we can.”

The group plans to reach out to the high schools in the county to see whether there would be any interest from students in helping to clean up and restore the pioneer cemeteries.

“We’re going to approach the school systems in the area this year on that to give us a hand as much as they can,” Wilson said.

The county had previously budgeted $3,375 for fiscal year 2017-18 and $6,750 for fiscal year 2018-19 for the organization.

As far as fundraising, the association has received $430.50 so far, but the group always welcomes private donations.

“We are looking at trying to do a couple of grants,” Wilson said. “We don’t have anything done yet, but that is what we’re hoping to do.”

The supervisors thanked Steffens and Wilson for their time, encouraged their group to raise funds and go after grants, and decided to allocate $10,940 for the association in the county’s fiscal year 2019-20 budget. That budget has to be filed by March 15.