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The Power of a Cemetery Clean-Up Workday

September 7, 2017

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What do dump trucks, 10 shovels, and 900 strawberry plants have in common? SOLVE! In 2005, several community groups partnered with SOLVE for the first of many workdays at the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery in Coos Bay. With a grant from SOLVE, a small cache of tools, including ten shovels, was put together. On May 7th, 2005, virtual army of volunteers descended on the cemetery to attack the vegetation that over-topped every headstone. By the end of the day, three and a half dump trucks loads of invasive species had been hauled off, heritage roses – including one that was barely two inches high – were identified, and the task of recording information on the headstones was begun. The efforts of the more than 100 volunteers did not go unnoticed: the project was selected from over a thousand other volunteer projects for a Join Hands Day Excellence Award, one of the twenty national awards given in 2005.

MPC-dumping.jpgFor many years, the cemetery was open only for Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day, so twice a year inmate crews would would arrive at the cemetery to cut back as much vegetation as possible. As a result of this single workday, visitors could at least walk through the entire cemetery and could make arrangements to visit at any time of the year. On the workdays that followed, volunteers used weed wrenches and a lot of muscle to remove more of the unwanted vegetation. The cache of tools expanded from the first ten shovels to include lopers, rakes, and small hand tools, some of which were purchased with another SOLVE grant. The crumpled, chain-link gate that had been padlocked most days of the year was replaced with a new gate. With the assistance of a OPRD Historic Cemeteries Grant, a new, black picket fence stretches along the new sidewalk, a project of the City of Coos Bay, and along that sidewalk – nearly 900 native strawberry plants were planted during the SOLVE workday last April.

Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery has been able to have workdays sponsored by SOLVE for the past 12 years. This year is the first attempt at a SOLVE coordinated historic cemetery workday. It will be paired with the 34th Annual Beach Clean-up on September 23rd. SOLVE is anxious to make it clear it promotes responsible care for all of Oregon, not just its beaches or the Portland metro area. Cemeteries are located in every community throughout Oregon and can give everyone an opportunity to become involved in a worthwhile event.

Our clean-up at the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery will actually take place on Friday, September 22, to accommodate the high school’s schedule and homecoming events. Work at the cemetery is on-going, and a single workday day can’t undo years of neglect, however, in the case of the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery, a single, awesome workday did serve as a catalyst for renewal. Now, under SOLVE’s banner, historic cemeteries may be remembered and cared for at least once each year. Who knows what may evolve!

For more information on how to join the volunteer effort or a list of participating cemeteries, visit http://www.solveoregon.org/historic-cemetery-cleanups.

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