Jake Sutherby
Jake Sutherby, president of Western Oregon University Student Veterans of America organization, scrubs the headstone of Andrew Redshaw, who was a corporal in the U.S. Army during World War I. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

It was damp and cool at Mount Union Cemetery on Saturday morning. Large, bright orange and yellow leaves had fallen from the large maple tree in the cemetery. The sky was filled with white, billowy clouds stretching across the overcast sky.

As their capstone event honoring Veterans Day Week, a group of students from Western Oregon University traveled on Nov. 13 from Monmouth and Dallas to help honor veterans buried at Mount Union. The WOU Student Veterans of America group was led by President Jake Sutherby, who made the trip down from Western specifically to help take care of the headstones of veterans who rest at the Philomath cemetery.

These veteran students researched several area historic cemeteries and decided that Mount Union was the best one to pay their respects to veterans through some good old-fashioned elbow grease. They came with buckets, brushes and water provided by Mount Union Sexton Janet Cornelius to help scrub moss and debris from veteran headstones.  

Sutherby, who served in the U.S. Marines Corps, is pursuing a master’s degree in special education at Western. He was accompanied by Taylor Litke, Dennis Long, who serves as WOU’s SVA treasurer, and Allen Nickelson, who are also members of WOU’s SVA. Nickelson mentioned that he was stationed in the Army at Fort Drum, New York, and often tended to veterans’ graves in neighboring Watertown. All three veterans felt it was important to give back to those who served before them.

Shayla Barnes and Tabitha Hood also traveled down from the Monmouth area to help with the project. They were busy scrubbing the headstone of Larrabee Campbell, who served in World War I and now rests on the gentle hillside in Mount Union cemetery. Both Barnes and Hood represented American Sign Language Club from Western and felt inspired to also come serve with the others to provide some tender loving care to the headstones of veterans from years gone by.

WOU students Shayla Barnes and Tabitha Hood, both members of the school’s American Sign Language Club, scrub the headstone of World War I veteran Larrabee Campbell on Saturday. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Paula Taylor, an administrator at WOU, was busy scrubbing Reiny Bott’s headstone, who served as a corporal in the Marine Corps. Taylor and her veteran husband both came down from Monmouth along with a number of other WOU students he elected to participate.

Cornelius and her husband had recently placed flags on the graves of the cemetery’s 200 veterans in recognition of Veterans Day. That made it easy for the student veterans and other WOU students to pick out headstones that needed the moss scrubbed from lettering on the headstone.

It was impressive to watch this group of caregivers go to work scrubbing, washing and polishing headstones of veterans they did not know. They simply wanted to serve those who served.

Hailey McKinley from Corvallis and Lara Theurer from Philomath — both members of Benton County 4-H — use teamwork to lift leaves from the Mount Union Cemetery Memorial Garden into a trailer on Sunday. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

On Sunday, a group from the “Prime Cuts” 4-H club in Benton County showed up to do its bi-annual service project, which consists of raking leaves, trimming hedges, pruning rose bushes and cleaning out birdhouses. This project was led by Tanner Dowless, who proudly carried on the 4-H Junior Leader Project that his sister Carly started several years ago. Scouts from Troop 161, which Dowless is also a member of, showed up to help out with this service project.  

Altogether there were approximately 20 young people helping with the cemetery clean-up. They went right to work with rakes, leaf blowers, pruning shears and hedge trimmers. The cemetery was buzzing with activity.  Whrrrrr from the leaf blowers, scrape went the rakes and snip went the pruning shears — all along with youthful chatter, cooperation and teamwork.

Thomas Smith, Star Scout of Philomath Scout Troop 161, rakes leaves Sunday at the cemetery as part of a service project. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

It was impressive to see all these young people work so well together. Cornelius was also on hand again on Sunday to provide guidance and oversight to the eager young people who showed up to help.

“4-H kids know how to work and they work so well together,” Cornelius remarked.

Kerri Dowless, Tanner’s mother added, “Scouts work really hard, too.”

Within an hour the group had raked most of the leaves into piles and successfully pruned all the rose bushes. Tanner Dowless was running a 4-wheeler with a trailer to and from a burn pile located on the lower corner of the cemetery to cart and pile the leaves outside the area where headstones lie.

Cornelius referred me to Jane Buck, who is a longtime member of the Winema chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I spoke to her on Saturday via telephone. The DAR’s mission is to focus on helping promote education and patriotism as well as to promote historic preservation.

The Winema chapter conducted a day of service event on Oct. 11 where chapter members scraped paint and cleaned debris in the cemetery. They also sponsored the creation of a memorial plaque to be placed adjacent to the Ficklin grave that explains the mystery as to why the Shipley family rests under the Ficklin headstone. The plaque was recently received by the cemetery president, Fran Miller, and the DAR plans a dedication and installation of the marker before the end of the year.

The Winema chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution plans to place this sign near the Ficklin grave by the end of the year. (Photo courtesy of Janet Cornelius)

Cornelius also informed me of an archway for Mount Union that is being built by local horseshoe artisan and sculptor, Bud Thomas. Much of the funding for the archway is being presented by the Ohren family. James Ohren passed away on Sept. 11, 2018 and rests in the cemetery. His widow, Janet Ohren from Corvallis, and their daughter, Janelle Hoffman, are working with the Mount Union Cemetery Board of Trustees to get the archway installed sometime next spring.

I really think that Reuben Shipley and his family are smiling down on all the community goodness that their original gift to the community has generated. The acts of kindness that have stemmed from their initial gift are simply remarkable to behold. It is appropriate that we express our sincere gratitude to everyone that has contributed their time, their money and their resources to deliver amazing stewardship to this community treasure. We give thanks.

(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at Lifeinphilomath@gmail.com).