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Volunteers pitch in to spruce up Lebanon’s IOOF cemetery

As has been the case for decades, the IOOF Cemetery in Lebanon held its annual Memorial Day flag ceremony hosted by the American Legion this year.

Roads running through the historic graveyard were colored with red, white and blue, but this year there was another color: yellow.

The cemetery was covered in dandelions more than a foot tall, said Errol Krosman, who went to visit his friend’s grave that day.

“The whole place was yellow, pretty much,” he said.

Krosman wasn’t the only person who noticed the weeds. Other visitors commented about the state of the cemetery on social media, and residents began asking why the grounds seemed to be declining in recent years.

Their passion kicked off a series of events that spurred some in the community to make the place of rest a place of beauty.

Krosman and his partner Garry Browning own Joella’s Manor House, an adult foster care home.

Even though they don’t have a lawn, they purchased more than $3,000 worth of equipment and have been mowing and edging the cemetery grounds most days for the past few months, he said. They also pay a caregiver or two to watch over their residents while
they’re volunteering their time at the cemetery.

“We’re just here to help out because it really looked bad,” Krosman said. “We just wanted to help, and get more volunteers out here to help.”

Since their time out there, the two said they have met several visitors who expressed concern over the state of the grounds, and appreciation for the work that’s being done.

Other volunteers from the community, including several from the Lebanon Fire Department and Boys and Girls Club, stepped up to the challenge as well.

“They’re coming out, they’re being a part of the solution, which is awesome,” said Brenda Spence, cemetery sexton. “We all just appreciate it so much.”

She arrived one day to find a donation of bark mulch from Weyerhaeuser, thanks to local businessman Wyatt King, who made the request.

Before the community got wind of the weed population growth this year, the Girl Scouts had already adopted the pet memorial section as their volunteer project, Spence said.

Lebanon Garden Club members used to volunteer at the cemetery a few years ago, but mostly stopped going since Frankie Gray passed away, she said.

“(Gray) was the driving force behind that,” she said.

The cemetery, a nonprofit entity managed by board members of Lebanon’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows, at one point had four groundskeepers, but is currently down to two due to budget constraints, Spence said. Of those two, the lead groundskeeper recently fell ill and had been unable to manage the property. The other one was still in training.
Meanwhile, the weather made things worse.

“This year it was so hard because it was so wet, they would go to mow and our mowers would sink,” Spence said. “Then by the time it got dry enough and the sun came out, it just went crazy, and they were playing catch up the whole time.”

The groundskeepers are not only responsible for upkeep of 46½ acres of property, but also digging graves, burying the deceased, and setting up headstones, Spence said.
“When there’s a service, all work stops out of respect for the family,” she added.

Vandalism has also taken a chunk out of the budget, she added. For example, someone had busted the gate open with their car, which will cost $2,000 to repair. More recently, someone broke into the office and stole a Relay for Life donation jar; it cost more than $300 to fix the door frame.

Another difficulty is that part of the funds that pay for the groundskeepers’ salaries come from a source over which they have no control, Spence said.

“We get our money by selling the plots and selling the niches and selling the headstones. Fifteen percent of the plots and 10 percent of the niches go into an endowment care fund, which is state-regulated.

“We can’t touch that money. We get the interest off it which, if you know anything about interest rates, is like nothing right now.

“It’s supposed to help keep the cemetery taken care of forever. At one time, the interest rates were really high and we were doing pretty good, but when they tanked, so did that.”

How you can help
Krosman believes if volunteers choose a specific section to maintain on a regular basis, the work will become easier for everyone. The work generally requires mowing, weed eating, edging around headstones, and throwing out flowers that are dead, he said.

“We feel it’s important to keep the cemetery up,” Browning added. “It’s an ongoing thing because grass and weeds grow, so you have to keep at it.”

If anyone wants to help by donating items, the cemetery will accept landscaping supplies, including mulch, weed killer, and cement for setting headstones. The water and sprinkler system also needs maintenance.

For those who plan to work lawn maintenance at the cemetery, Spence asks they call ahead of time to be sure they’re not going to be in an area when a service is happening.