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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

HCPCC brings ‘spooks’ to life during Pioneer Cemetery Day

Sep 18, 2017
Photo by: Grace King Henry County Pioneer Cemetery Commission board members gave a short presentation of the history of Old Richwoods South Cemetery on Saturday, Sept. 16. This was a part of the fifth annual Pioneer Cemetery Days to preserve the cemeteries of Henry County. Above, Sylvia and Rami Ridinger, of Trenton, walked among the headstones at Old Richwoods South Cemetery following the presentation.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Sitting in the southwest corner of Old Richwoods South Cemetery, Stan Hill said there are a lot of spooks, and some of them talk back.

As former chairman of the Henry County Pioneer Cemetery Commission (HCPCC), Hill knows well the Pioneer Cemeteries around Henry County, cemeteries where 12 or fewer have been buried in the past 50 years. He said when HCPCC took over the care of these cemeteries in 1999, most of them were in shambles.

Since then, it is clear that HCPCC is working hard to ensure the preservation of Pioneer Cemeteries. During the Fifth Annual Pioneer Cemetery Day on Saturday, Sept. 16, a few dozen people gathered to listen to the history of Old Richwoods South Cemetery and walk among the historical headstones.

“Just to acknowledge a person lived and died and is not forgotten,” said Pat White, Vice Chairman of HCPCC. “We have a passion for it.”

Old Richwoods South Cemetery sits on an acre of land purchased by John and Naomi Allender in 1846. The Richwoods Methodist Protestant Church was built on the southwest corner of the lot, where visitors sat in the shade on Saturday while listening to HCPCC board members give their presentation.

The church was destroyed by the Grinnell tornado of 1882. There are over 100 marble and granite monuments throughout the acre of land. While many of the names and descriptions of the stones are unreadable, there are eight known veterans buried on the land.

HCPCC board member David Gates read through the names and service of the veterans and honored those in the audience on Saturday who have served. Buried are two veterans from the War of 1812, four veterans from the Civil War, one unknown soldier from the Spanish-American War, and the final burial at Old Richwoods Cemetery in 2000, a World War II veteran.

The featured Old Pioneer Cemetery is chosen each year by the maintenance HCPCC is able to do and the history they have been able to unearth.

“There’s so many (cemeteries),” HCPCC chairman Debbie VanDerSnick said. “It’s hard to choose. It amazes me how many people are buried who don’t have stones.”

One of the featured stones on Saturday was placed just recently in 2016. Shelly Langston, of Columbia, S.C., called the Henry County Court House inquiring about a family member she suspected was buried in the county. They directed her to Carol Klopfenstein.

“I have a small part in this cemetery’s story,” Klopfenstein said, as she presented the history of the new headstone during Pioneer Cemetery Days.

Langston was looking for her great-great-grandfather, William DeGruit. Klopfenstein recognized the name from the book “Love and Valor,” published letters between Captain Jacob Ritner and Emeline of Henry County during the Civil War. DeGruit’s name is mentioned in the book 11 times.

Klopfenstein was able to prove the place DeGruit was buried and a headstone was placed there during the spring of 2016.

“One hundred and thirty-six years later, her great-great grandfather had a tombstone,” Klopfenstein said.

Leslie Hole and her daughter Heather Wells, of Washington, walked around Old Richwoods Cemetery on Saturday, taking pictures of the headstones and double-checking family names. Members of the Washington Genealogy Society, Hole and Wells have been traveling to cemeteries in Iowa for years, tracking their own genealogy and posting pictures of headstones to Find A Grave, a free resource for finding the final resting place of friends and family.

Sylvia Ridinger, of Trenton, also visited on Saturday to track her husband’s family’s genealogy and as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Funding for HCPCC is allotted by the Board of Supervisors. HCPCC board members are appointed for three-year terms.

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