The Community Day of Service drew between 150 and 175 volunteers. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

The volunteers started showing up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday ready to go to work. Over the next five hours, waves of individuals and entire families came and went while doing their part to have a special impact on Philomath’s Mount Union Cemetery.

The Sept. 9 event represented Community Day of Service, an effort led by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By the time the project wrapped up, including a couple of volunteers who stayed an extra three hours to finish carpentry-related work, the cemetery had a water line leading to the entrance, trimmed trees, cleaned grave stones, fixed sheds and a new information kiosk — just to name a few examples of the work that had been done.

The work even uncovered the previously unknown grave marker of a 2-year-old child who died in 1875.

Bill Caffey, who serves on the Mount Union Cemetery Association board and fills the role of sexton, routinely cuts the grass around the property, which is the final resting place for at least 2,600 individuals.

“It was a remarkable opportunity that just walked in,” Caffey said. “We have so many projects in mind and so often — it’s difficult because it’s hard enough just maintaining it with only a handful of volunteers. And so to get these larger projects is a bit of a godsend. We were very fortunate that they approached us and had such a great turnout and such a beautiful day to do it.”

Janet Cornelius, Mount Union Cemetery Association interim president, said the cemetery was especially pleased to have various bigger projects finished, which in addition to work done on the sheds, kiosk, trees and water line, also included hundreds of granite gravestones cleaned and several markers documented and photographed to be uploaded to a national database commonly used for genealogy research.

FIL Construction led the effort to build a kiosk. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Teresa Nielson, who serves as communication director for the Corvallis Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said between 150 and 175 individuals participated, “which is our biggest community service project yet.”

“We had people from as far as Waldport and Newport come to participate as well as a large number of Philomath residents but also a large portion of Corvallis residents,” Nielson said. “So it was kind of Corvallis to the coast with volunteers coming from various areas.”

Last year, the group organized a Community Day of Service at a Waldport cemetery, which attracted 126 volunteers.

“We have such a great community of people willing to step up and participate and just make a real difference in our community,” Nielson said. “That’s what I love about Philomath.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on a national scale organizes annual Community Day of Service events on or as close as possible to Sept. 11 in honor of those who lost their lives in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“We plan a project that we find is needful for our community and then we invite not only members of our church but neighbors and community members to join with us in completing the project,” Nielson said.

The cemetery’s trees were trimmed, one example of the several tasks completed. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Cornelius and Nielson said a Philomath News story about the cemetery needing volunteers for the monthly cleanups initially brought them together.

“Back in April, there was an article on Mount Union Cemetery and Janet was planning on having the second Saturday each month be a service project where they can work on specific parts of the cemetery that needed improvement and work done,” Nielson said.

Nielson suggested that Mount Union Cemetery utilize an app called JustServe, which features a database where organizations and volunteers can connect.

“We kind of progressed from that and one thing led to another and it blossomed into this big community service day,” Nielson said.

The two organizations moved forward from that point on leading up to Sept. 9.

“We supplied our wish list, and over the next few months, we exchanged numerous emails, met several times at the cemetery and came up with the list of projects,” Cornelius said. “Nearly all of the projects were completed on Saturday.”

A stone for Lucy Philbrook was found near the Wyatt family plot marker. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

One of the most exciting moments of the day occurred when the child’s grave marker was uncovered in the cemetery’s southwest section.

“We have these family plots that have curbs around them and one of the major projects was to take the soil out, which is built up with debris — I mean, it was pretty bad,” Cornelius said. “So we took out 4 inches or so and as they’re digging down, they’re like, ‘oh, there’s something here.’ And sure enough, it was little Lucy … she’s on the records but we didn’t know a stone was there.”

This grave marker for 2-year-old Lucy Philbrook was discovered during the cemetery cleanup and maintenance project. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The volunteers were digging down at that depth to clear out dirt and debris before adding in red rock.

Lucy W. Philbrook was just over 2 years of age when she died Aug. 28, 1875. The little girl was the daughter of the Rev. Charles E. Philbrook and Tressa C. Watson.

Caffey said he was on the other side of the cemetery when the discovery of the child’s grave occurred.

“You hate to lose them like that but it happens,” Caffey said. “The leaves fall, the grass gets thrown and if it’s not cleared away, it’s remarkable how quickly (graves close to the ground can get covered up).”

One of the most visible additions to the cemetery involved the erection of a kiosk that will be used as a bulletin board area and to display a cemetery map and directory.

“Phil (Morrison) from FIL Construction was the lead carpenter on the kiosk and stayed to help complete installation of the new doors on the west shed,” Cornelius said. “The new map-information kiosk was designed by one of our regular volunteers, Hank Schroeder, who will complete the display area.”

FIL Construction actually got started a day early, Caffey said, by coming out to set posts in concrete so construction could begin Saturday.

The cemetery’s two sheds both had work done primarily to the doors. Painting projects included the sheds, although some work remained on the trim because volunteers ran out of primer.

A trench was built for the installation of a water line leading up to the cemetery’s entrance area. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Another significant project at the cemetery was the installation of PVC pipe in a trench running from the central intersection up to the entryway arch, where in-ground spigots were put in.

“One of our plans is to improve the entrance with some landscaping,” Caffey said, a project that will likely require water. “Just plant some boxwoods or bushes around the plinth for the arch and just make it more attractive. That arch is such an asset that we really ought to set it off, I think, and one of the things that has to be there is water to run soaker hoses.”

Another key project was the trimming and maintenance of cedar and fir trees on the property.

“One of the unsung projects was we had a lift here and they raised the canopy on all of these trees, which is huge,” Caffey said. “To look at it, it’s not something that you go ‘wow’ … but the fact that it’s been done means that the grass will grow better underneath and nobody will have to duck.”

Other work included various landscaping tasks, fence repair, washing benches, filling holes, cleaning out bird boxes and creating a waterproof receptacle for the Quest notebook, which is a self-guided adventure program.

Nielson provided insight into the organizational details of the Latter-day Saints’ Day of Community Service efforts to make sure their time at the site was utilized effectively.

“We don’t want anybody coming and standing around thinking it’s a total waste of time, we want them actively doing something that’s making them think that they’re worthwhile volunteer opportunity is making a difference,” Nielson said.

Nielson sees a lot of positives beyond the actual work that was done to help the cemetery.

“We really feel that service projects like this are what build a true sense of community and create a cohesion and a sense of purpose,” she said. “I think it’s invaluable today … I think we need this to draw us together and let us know that we’re all very interconnected.”

Volunteers clean grave markers. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Latter-day Saints project leaders included Mason Heaton, Phillip Morrison, Laura Dalton, Diane Merten, Jason Appah, Dave Erickson, Mike Moore, Nathan Robinson and Kaleb Smith.

Mount Union Cemetery just started organizing the work parties earlier this year. They take place each month on the second Saturday from 9 a.m.-noon.

“One of our desires is to build that volunteer program and it can be done,” Caffey said. “The Boy Scouts come in, 4-H comes in once or twice a year and so we do have good community support but we could use more — always. So we’ll keep putting the word out for the second Saturday.”

Ultimately, Caffey said he’d like to see someone step into the role of volunteer coordinator — a person who encourages folks to come out and organizes events such as volunteer parties.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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