----- ............Cemetery Walk: An afternoon of discovery! Every stone has a story. And they are waiting to be told........... -----

Friday, May 13, 2011

Antioch Dedication Memorial

I finally got out to see the dedication stone. I would like to see this happen to more of our rural cemeteries. And, I'm glad that I was a part of it. I'd like to think we had the opportunity to leave it better than we found it.

From my previous posts:

[1] For years this was an unkempt cemetery, buried in trash, on the east side of the road, two and a half miles north of St. Joe. No name was known for it. Later it was thought to be the Weise cemetery - based most likely on a land owners name. The condition of the site changed when Keith Neuway started taking care of it in the 1980's. Today you will find a visitor's register in the box attached to the flag pole. It is mowed on a regular basis by the neighbors.

I found an obituary in which it was called Antioch Cemetery. After discussion between Keith and myself we decided it would be dedicated as the Antioch Cemetery and our local genealogical society would provide a sign. A small crowd was present on Friday, August 28, 2009, when the cemetery sign for the Antioch Cemetery was installed. The Hutchinson News carried the story. You can read more about this on the RCGS blog and also about the grant we received from Megan Smolenyak of Honoring Our Ancestors to continue with the project of installing signs at the cemeteries without one.

[2] A small crowd gathered yesterday for the dedication of Antioch Cemetery. This is the first sign placed by the genealogical society. The event was covered by the local paper.

Attendees that signed the visitor book
 Article in The Hutchinson News 8/28/2009 by Amy Bickel
ST. JOE - The tiny acre plot had almost disappeared from sight, and from mind.

Once the burial place for the area's pioneers from roughly 1870 to 1890, the unnamed cemetery was now overgrown with weeds, serving more as a trash dump and used by a local as an ensilage pit than a place to honor the dead. Most of the stones were no longer standing - pushed over by force.

Yet on one winter day, Keith Neuway, a new resident to the area, noticed what looked like the top of a grave marker poking out from the weeds and trash.

"There are probably many private cemeteries that people don't even know about," Neuway said. "People take the stones out and farm over the graves and life goes on."

Neuway, however, found the history of this little acreage worthy of preserving.

Growing up helping his father with his work as the Burrton Cemetery sexton, Neuway knew his father wouldn't have liked what he would have seen.

So, each time he made a trip to the dump, he'd pick up a few of the bottles, the household items and the junk that littered the cemetery. He uncovered stones buried deep in the ground and repaired the broken ones.

When he was able, Neuway, along with help from neighbors John and Mary Schmidt, began mowing and doing general upkeep. He also put up a flagpole so a flag could be flown on holidays, and attached a registry book for visitors.

It's an effort Neuway and the Schmidts have continued for nearly 40 years in the forgotten cemetery with no name.

However, in May, thanks to help from the Reno County Genealogical Society, Neuway's cemetery will have a name, and a sign.

Family of those buried here, as well as friends and neighbors gathered Friday afternoon to dedicate Antioch Cemetery - one of 17 unmarked cemeteries for which the genealogical society plans to purchase signage.

Member Gale Wall said the society received $260 from Honoring Our Ancestors, a grant funded through Megan Smolenyak, chief family historian and spokeswoman for Ancestry.com.

"It is our goal to have a sign placed at each cemetery," Wall said, noting the current grant should help install six signs.

Most of the cemeteries are abandoned and not being used for new burials. Yet while these 17 cemeteries will soon be properly marked, some of those buried at each site will remain forgotten, their burial spots never recorded in the annals of history.

That includes Antioch, said Chris Shults, who has at least two relatives in the cemetery.

"The shame of it is we don't know how many are truly there," he said.

Neuway said he has found seven markers, but estimates there are, at the least, 13 people buried at Antioch.

Nevertheless, Neuway's work to honor those who died allowed him to uncover the key to the cemetery's name.

Civil War veteran Lewis Jones' stone had been driven over numerous times, shoved into the ground. Sifting through old newspaper articles, members found Jones' obituary, which stated he was buried in Antioch Cemetery.

"Getting the name, I really didn't think it would happen in my lifetime," Neuway said.

He hopes the name will help those searching for their relatives, he said.

That included Lee Shults and his family, who were on a hunt for the grave of Lee's great-grandmother Genetta Shults.

It just happened to be the white pillar that caught Neuway's attention years before. Shults and Neuway pieced Genetta's 7-foot-tall marker back together and reset the stone.

Shults died five years ago.

"It's the only tangible trace," said son Chris Shults of recovering the cemetery and learning of its name. "Genetta was anonymous before that, and now, for what it is worth, she has some recognition.

"Just finding this one grave and being able to have the cemetery recognized, along with the other families - that means a lot," Chris Shults said.

Despite the fact they have no relatives buried here, nor monetary compensation, the effort continues.

"It's just the reward of preserving history in this place," Neuway said. "It's one of my attachments, with a lot friends and neighbors helping."

I signed the visitor book when I arrived to see the new dedication stone and was honored by the words Mr. Neuway recorded.

We can make a difference!

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