Andrew George

Andrew George playing Taps, a traditional military funeral bugle call, at Marine on St. Croix’s 2016 Memorial Day Service at Oakland Cemetery. A group is working to initiate restoration at the site.

 

Monument repair may be the most visible aspect of a restoration project in the works for Marine’s Oakland Cemetery this fall. But if the project goes as organizers hope, it won’t be the only outcome. 

Before a single stone is touched, those planning the project hope to spark interest and will invite the public to help document the stories of people buried there. The group hopes those initial sparks grow into a long-burning ethos of community stewardship toward the city-owned cemetery. 

The project pays homage to Gary Campbell, who spent his retirement repairing headstones in Washington County cemeteries. Campbell was raised in Marine and is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

“He represents the kind of civic spirit of people in Marine,” explained Charlie Anderson, one of the project’s organizers. “We wanted to tap into that and use it as a catalyst to call others in Marine to action, to say, ‘This is our shared sacred space and we need to take care of it.’”

The project is bringing together organizations including the Marine Restoration Society, the City of Marine and its Urban Forest Task Force, Christ Lutheran Church, and River Grove Elementary School. 

The diverse partnership owes its thanks to some small-town synergy. Fitzie Heimdahl, a member of the restoration society, had been looking for a project with broad appeal.

“I wanted to create a project that would build excitement in the community for local history,” he explained. “Something that would excite a lot of people, that was hands-on and interactive.”

He’d heard of Northern Bedrock, an organization that partners skilled professionals with AmeriCorps crews to restore historic sites and train the next generation of preservation trade workers. As he began to communicate with them about potential projects, the cemetery came up as a possibility.

“With its community connection and historical connection to Marine, we all kind of agreed that it would be the perfect spot,” Heimdahl said.

As he mulled it over with another resident, Charlie Anderson, the field of possibilities widened. 

“I’d talked to Fitzie a couple times,” Anderson recalled. “I was involved with the Urban Forest Task Force and I’d heard John Goodfellow mention how the cemetery needs some upkeep. … That’s when a little light bulb went off that this would be a great opportunity to bring both projects together … and to bring in River Grove Elementary. Part of their mission as a civic-minded school is to have roots in the community. We could bring the students there, just like Gary used to, and have them participate in the upkeep as a way to honor their ancestors and community.”

Anderson, a combat veteran and current member of the military, touched on the cemetery’s significance for veterans and their loved ones.

“There is so much history there,” he said. “And there’s a special importance in my heart for those who have served our country who are there as well. … This is not just about the Urban Forest Task Force and Marine Restoration Society. It affects everyone in Marine and anyone whose loved ones are buried there.”

He added: “This is something that will unite our community that’s needed and will honor the memory of all who are there. … It will be impactful over that eight-day period, but then what are the ripple effects as we go into the future? How do we take care of the cemetery and our ancestors?”

Tentatively, a Northern Bedrock crew is set to work in Marine October 3 through 10. That’s eight 10-hour days. 

“We anticipate them getting a lot done,” Heimdahl said, noting that workers will likely focus on some of the oldest monuments, those of the founding fathers and mothers of the town.

Northern Bedrock will also lead a community workshop for those interested in learning to maintain plots and keep the site in good condition.

“With these older cemeteries there aren’t many stewards to maintain them,” Heimdahl said, expressing the need for residents to take up the torch.

Heimdahl, Anderson and others will attend Mill Stream Day, May 28, and Marine’s May 28 Memorial Day Service, hoping to get the word out about the project and compile a list of volunteers interested in contributing in various ways.

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