Chip Minemyer | Cemetery volunteers are keepers of history

Lloyd Rogers’ father was the first treasurer of the Jacksonville Cemetery Association, taking on that role in 1930.

Rogers, 86, has been involved with the cemetery for as long as he can remember, serving in that same office for many years until Parkinson’s made writing too difficult.

He is looking forward to Saturday’s annual festival, a key fundraiser for the care and maintenance of the Jacksonville cemetery.

But he wonders about the future of the association and the burial sites it maintains.

“The people on the board are all retired,” Rogers said. “You just can’t seem to get the young people interested.

“It’s getting so it’s hard to get help,” he said. “And it’s not just us. It’s all over.”

In many communities, cemeteries are more than the final resting places for generations of residents.

They are history books of marble and grass, holding the stories of those who worked the land, ran businesses, served their country and built lives and neighborhoods.

And in most cases, the people taking care of those places, like Rogers, have lived a lot of history themselves.

“There seem to be very few people who are willing to give their time freely,” said William Struble, secretary/treasurer of the Zion Union Cemetery Association and head trustee for the Walker Township site.

He recalls a time a few years back when Zion board meetings typically attracted two people, Elmer Shaffer and himself.

Shaffer, cemetery association president for many years, died in December 2010 at 86, his obituary shows.

“He and I voted that year,” Struble said. “There were only two of us at the meeting.”

These days, Struble has help. He pointed to Scott Witherite, president of the association, and trustees Dave Witherite and Roy Brooks.

The board contracts with a man from Coleville to cut the grass. A Boy Scout troop paints posts and the storage building at the cemetery each year.

“There are very few people,” Struble said. “But we do what we can do.”

One important task that Struble embraces is that of keeper of the records for the Zion cemetery.

I learned this firsthand recently when I went there to find the grave of Civil War veteran Zachariah Truckenmiller.

Truckenmiller hasn’t moved since 1907, but I still had trouble locating him. After nearly an hour of tromping around in the wet grass in a shirt and tie, I wandered over to the maintenance building at the corner of the property. There I found Struble’s phone number.

His wife, Jenny, answered the phone and told me William wasn’t home. I explained my predicament, and she said she would look in his record books to see if she could pinpoint the Truckenmiller family plot.

Soon, like a human GPS through my cellphone, she guided me right to Mr. Truckenmiller’s grave.

“We don’t have an exact name and location for everybody in that cemetery,” William Struble said when we talked later. “Some of the family plots go back five generations. There are people buried down there dating back to the 1890s.”

Struble noted that some cemetery associations can pay the secretary/treasurer a small stipend, but most people donate their time to the cause.

“It’s quite a job, but one he does voluntarily,” Jenny Struble said.

Will someone follow in Struble’s shoes as keeper of the records at that rural cemetery?

Will someone lay out every new grave to be dug there, as Struble does, or handle sales of new burial plots?

“I don’t have any idea who it will be, but somebody’s going to have to,” Struble said. “You have to have people who are dedicated to doing it.”

At Jacksonville, Rogers is dedicated. His mother, father and brother are buried in that cemetery.

He and others are getting ready for the Saturday festival that will carry them through another year.

Rogers said Jacksonville has hosted a festival on the third Saturday in July every year since 1930 except one summer during World War II and once when the event was canceled because of severe storms.

“It’s just like a homecoming,” he said. “They all come in to visit.”

Visitors will enjoy bingo and games of chance including a ball pitch, a penny pitch and “a fish pond for the kids,” Rogers said.

Festivalgoers will buy carnival food favorites such as pizza, french fries, ice cream and hot sausage sandwiches. Late Saturday night, someone will win $500 in a raffle.

And the fun will support the local cemetery association in its mission to preserve the legacy of the community and its families.

“We get real good crowds,” he said. “ We have in the past, anyway. And they’re spenders. It really helps with the upkeep at the cemetery.”

Maybe sometime Saturday, while enjoying a soft drink around the penny pitch, someone a bit younger than Rogers will get the urge to accept the baton and get involved with taking care of local history.

In the meantime, Rogers said, as long as he’s able, “I still will be helping.”