Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery News – February 2017

I am pleased to report that 2016 was not only another successful year for our organization, but a very busy one, as well. Our Pioneer Cemetery continues to attract local visitors from all over the Pacific Northwest, as well as from all over the United States and around the world. Our events and activities focusing on the cemetery’s history and the stories of those resting within its grounds continue to be very popular and well-attended. Demand for private tours from schools, retirement homes, learning centers, etc. was pretty impressive last year. I am really not sure who enjoys these events and tours more, our docents or our visitors! I do know that without our wonderful and dedicated docents, we would not be able to offer the programs and tours that we do. Speaking of dedicated individuals, the volunteers who help with our Cemetery Community Clean-up Days, marker restoration, marker cleaning, and placing and removing of flags, are an amazing team. The care these individuals offer the cemetery in helping maintain and preserve it is such a special and meaningful gift to the community. We, our cemetery, and the City of Jacksonville are so fortunate to have so many giving individuals eager to care for and share our rich and interesting history with visitors.

The Numbers:

Programs and Tours—Our History Saturday in the Cemetery programs, on the second Saturday of the month, May through September, and our new in 2016, Tuesday Evening Cemetery Stroll, on the second Tuesday of the month, May through August, averaged 35 attendees for each of these events. Our volunteer docents donated 115 hours in presenting their programs. Both of these popular programs will be offered in 2017.

Private tour requests, such as those from the Medford Presbyterian Church, Talent Elementary School, Grants Pass Aspire, Oregon West Tours, Eagle Point High School, and others, brought in close to 300 hundred visitors wanting to visit our Pioneer Cemetery. Our docents designed individual tours for each of these groups based on what they wanted to see and learn about, as well as our meeting any special needs of the groups. A total of 74 volunteer hours were dedicated to these tours. One interesting thing that I noted this past year was the number of requests we had from families visiting the area and requesting special family tours. Happily, we were able to accommodate all five of these requests. Our docents look forward to sharing the history of Jacksonville and our Cemetery with even more groups in 2017. If you know of a group or family interested in arranging a tour of the cemetery, please have them email us at info@friendsjvillecemetery.org or call 541 826-9939.

Cemetery Visitors—Our Visitors Register, located inside the Cemetery Interpretive Center, indicated that we had approximately 1,000 visitors to our cemetery from January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016. As I have mentioned in the past, these are the visitors who took the time to visit our Interpretive Center and sign in. From my personal observations while working in the cemetery, most visitors enjoy walking the grounds and getting very involved reading the headstones and admiring the cemetery ornamentation. Our volunteers always encourage people to stop and visit the Interpretive Center and sign in. We value the feedback that we receive and have been able to answer questions and help a number of visitors locate loved ones from notes that they have left for us in the Visitors Register.

Marker Cleaning Workshops—Our dedicated group of volunteers, who meet on the third Saturday of the month, in April, and then June through September, to clean cemetery headstones and monuments, cleaned a total of 110 markers in 2016. A total of 169 volunteer hours were contributed towards this ongoing project. Since this type of work began in 2013, a total of 452 markers have been cleaned by removing plant growth, lichen, moss, dirt and grime, helping to preserve these treasures and grave sites for future generations. Marker Cleaning Workshops will resume on Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 9:00am.

Marker Restoration—Unfortunately, we didn’t get as much accomplished in the area of marker restoration in 2016, as we have in the past. However, we did manage to repair and restore a total of six markers, leaving many more in-need of our attention. Approximately 20 hours in volunteer time was set aside for this important work. We are in-need of some volunteers who would be interested in learning how to level and reset markers and repair broken ones. If you would like to get involved, please give me a call at 541-826-9939 or send an email to info@friendsjvillecemetery.org.

Another difficulty that we, as well as other Historic Cemeteries face, is finding skilled professionals to call upon to make repairs to the larger and more complex markers and monuments. This is one of the trades that is not being pursued by the younger generation.

Community Clean-Up Days—Approximately 150 hours of time was donated by 61 volunteers who helped care for the cemetery grounds on our three Community Clean-Up Days on March 19, May 21, and October 1, 2016. These Community Clean-up Days are so important to the overall care and upkeep of the cemetery and are sincerely appreciated by us, our Cemetery Sexton Richard Shields, and his assistant Eric Villarreal. We hope that if you are able to help out that you’ll consider joining us for one or more of our Community Clean-Up Days in 2017.

In addition, another 278 volunteer hours were spent on cleaning and caring for the Interpretive Center, Interpretive Panels, restocking brochures, picking up debris, branches/limbs, pruning bushes and trees, placing and maintaining flags and other related grounds maintenance issues.

Fundraising—Our annual major fundraiser, “Meet the Pioneers,” took a break in October 2016, and was replaced with a wonderful play presented by The Madrone Theatre Company. This generous and talented cast performed Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” during nine performances over three weekends at the Rogue Community Performance Hall. All the proceeds after expenses were donated by the cast to the Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery. The amount raised, close to $8,500, will go towards restoration and preservation projects in 2017. We sincerely appreciate their friendship and all that they did in reaching out and supporting the community and our non-profit. A special thank you to all our volunteers who donated close to 350 hours helping with tickets sales, greeting and seating guests, and helping with refreshments. We do plan on bringing “Meet the Pioneers” back on the first weekend of October, and are currently working on those plans. We thank you for your continued support of this very popular Jacksonville event.

Plans for 2017—In addition to continuing our History Saturday in the Cemetery, Tuesday Evening Strolls and the return of “Meet the Pioneers,” we have a few projects in mind. Of course one of those projects is to continue our very important and necessary Marker Cleaning Workshops. Another is to develop a Cemetery Kiosk to assist families and visitors in locating the gravesites of loved ones. While the City’s records may show what Section, Block and Plot number an individual is buried in, the difficulty, once in the cemetery, is finding the actual location without the assistance of the Cemetery Sexton, his assistant or a volunteer. Starting with the City Section, the largest and most difficult to negotiate, the plan calls for the placement of a binder containing an alphabetic listing of all known burials in the cemetery, including Section, Block and Plot numbers. A large map will be available for reference indicating the location of the various Sections and Blocks. Additionally, numbered posts will be placed in the ground at intervals helping to direct people to the gravesites that they are seeking. We are very excited about starting this long, overdue and necessary project. We also hope to be able to contract with trained professionals to help us in the restoration of a couple of family blocks in need of our attention to save and preserve these gravesites. In addition to our Community Clean-Up Days, we plan to contract with Community Justice work crews to help with grounds clean-up in some of the areas where our volunteers can’t always get to. It looks like 2017 should be another busy year and one that we all look forward to. Be sure to check our website at www.friendsjvillecemetery.org and look under the Events Page for a complete listing of all our events and activities scheduled for 2017.

Thank you—I wanted to take this opportunity to once again thank the Jacksonville Boosters Club for taking on the project of painting the Cemetery Interpretive Center in 2016. Also to Ron Danko, who directed and was a member of the cast of “Spoon River Anthology,” along with David Gordon who arranged and performed the music, and fellow cast members Jois Harkness, Rob Hirschboeck, Constance Jesser, David Sours, and Lea Worcester. Their dedication, time and skills made this a very successful fundraiser. I would also like to thank all of you who have volunteered your time in helping us with our work and to all who have made generous donations allowing us to continue to promote, restore and preserve Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery.

Sadly, we lost several wonderful, dedicated and generous supporters of our organization in 2016: Pat Dahl, Wes Hartman, and Ron and Dee Moore. They were all good friends and will forever be remembered for all they did for their families, community and the Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery where they now all rest.

Dirk J. Siedlecki, President – FOJHC