Why I Volunteer – Spotlight on Dirk J. Siedlecki, President, FOJHC

This month, I thought I’d give-up my column space to focus on one of my favorite Jacksonville volunteers so you can learn more about one of Jacksonville’s outstanding volunteer organizations—Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery.

When I retired in 2000, my wife, Mary, and I moved from San Francisco to Jacksonville. I knew that at some point I wanted to get involved in a community project, but at the time had no earthly idea of what that might be.

It didn’t take long as the following spring, good friend and fellow Boosters member Stan Lyon, mentioned he was going to help clean-up the cemetery on a Saturday morning. I said okay, that sounds like a worthwhile project, I’ll join you. It was a wonderful experience, however; I was disappointed at the rather poor turnout, the amount of work that needed to be done, and the overall condition of the cemetery. I guess it was at this point I found my calling and a way to give back to the community and its residents. Of course, I had no idea of just how big of a project it was going to be, or the wonderful adventure I was about to embark on.

In 2002, I headed-up the Jacksonville Boosters Club Cemetery Committee as volunteers began to clean-up the cemetery grounds and added enhancements to attract visitors and residents. In October 2008, the Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery was founded not only to expand our volunteer base, but to accept donations as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit. Most of our volunteers have been with us from the very beginning and continue to help with clean-ups, marker cleaning, marker restoration, tours and other cemetery events and activities. Our volunteers are the ones who have made the work of the Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery the success that it is.

In 2006, I was approached by the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries to fill a six-month vacancy. I then applied and was selected to fill a four-year term, which was followed by a second and final four-year term that expires in July, 2014. Serving on the Commission has been one of the most gratifying and rewarding experiences of my life. I have traveled throughout the State and have had the good fortune to meet the most amazing people who volunteer and care for our historic cemeteries.

Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery is approximately 30 acres and requires a lot of care and attention. While the City of Jacksonville owns the largest portion of the cemetery, and is responsible for its overall operation, there are a number of sections owned by individual religious and fraternal organizations. In some cases these organizations are no longer active or their membership can no longer care for their sections. Additionally, many gravesites are no longer cared-for as families have passed or moved-on, leaving no one to care for the gravesites.

Cemetery Sexton Richard Shields and City Staff do an outstanding job caring for the grounds given their limited time and manpower. However, they need the help of volunteers to keep up with the work load.

The Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery organizes three clean-up days a year, in March, May, and October. Volunteers pick-up downed tree branches and limbs, rake and bag leaves, weed, prune, cut grass and weed-eat, clean the Interpretive Panels and Interpretive Center, restock brochures and maintain the Bulletin Boards in the Interpretive Center and at the rest rooms. Trained volunteers clean grave markers and restore leaning or damaged grave markers, curbing, urns and other decorative cemetery fixtures. We also maintain and update a database of all the gravesites that are marked within the cemetery grounds. In addition, we provide Docents for individual group tours and for our History Saturday Programs, place flags on all 360 veterans’ gravesites and provide assistance to those visiting the cemetery to located gravesites of loved ones. In October, we present “Meet the Pioneers,” where visitors are guided around and meet Pioneer Spirits who share their stories. MTP requires 70- 80 volunteers to put on each year and is not only a major fundraiser for cemetery restoration efforts, it has become one of Jacksonville’s more popular attractions.

If you would like to get involved and help us to care for this beautiful Pioneer Cemetery, visit our website at www.friendsjvillecemetery.org and look under “Volunteer” for additional details.

Thank you for your consideration and I hope to see you in the cemetery or perhaps working on another volunteer project around town.

Posted July 26, 2013