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The North Bend Eagle

Summit Grove Cemetery
A group of neighbors visit the neglected Summit Grove Cemetery on Memorial Day.

Veteran leads effort to save forgotten cemetery

by Nathan Arneal
Published 7/6/11

Last Veteran’s Day, someone told Martin “Casey” Jones that there might be some veterans buried in a small abandoned cemetery between Snyder and North Bend.
Jones, an officer in the Snyder VFW, checked out Summit Grove Cemetery for himself this spring, and he didn’t like what he found.

“I discovered that, yes, there’s two veterans buried out there,” he said, “but the condition of the entire cemetery is very deplorable.”

The last person buried in Summit Grove, which is located a mile south of Webster and eight miles north of North Bend, was Army veteran Frank Ferguson in Oct. 1976. Guy Robertson, a World War I vet whose gravestone was featured on the cover of the June 1 Eagle, is the other known veteran buried in Summit Grove.

After a few local inquiries, Jones found Jeanine Riggs, Ferguson’s niece, living near Fremont. He showed her pictures of the Summit Grove Cemetery and told her, “We have to do something here.”

Hidden stones in Summit GroveMany grave stones at Summit Grove have been toppled or overtaken with vegetation.

Over the past couple of months, Jones has taken it upon himself to do just that. His ultimate goal is to have the cemetery, which has also been known as Cruickshank Cemetery and Webster Cemetery, cleaned up and put under the care of Dodge County. Despite having lived in the area for just three-and-a-half years— he moved to Snyder from Norfolk after retirement— he is doing everything in his power to see that goal become a reality.

“They probably know me by first name down at the courthouse,” Jones said, “because I visited every agency that I needed to check with down there.”

He learned that Summit Grove Cemetery began as a family cemetery owned by James Cruickshank. During the 1870s, the family graveyard morphed into a community cemetery. In 1888, Cruickshank donated the ground to the newly formed Summit Grove Cemetery Association. Jeanine Riggs has a book of the Association’s meeting minutes from 1888 to 1892.

Over a century later, a petition was filed in 1998 to have Dodge County become the caretaker for pioneer cemetery. The problem was that the Summit Grove Cemetery Association was still the rightful owner of the ground, and the County couldn’t take over unless the Association was dissolved. The 1998 effort to clean up Summit Grove ended there.

That’s where Casey Jones picked up the trail this spring. The first challenge is dissolving an association whose members are all deceased. In fact, there isn’t even a record of the association’s members. The last known activity of the Summit Grove Cemetery Association is a letter found at the Nebraska State Historical Society. It was written in 1998 and signed by “Franklin Liston, et al.” Liston died shortly thereafter.

“What can we do to dissolve an association that’s already dead?” Jones asked.

In order to get the SGCA dissolved, Jones is circulating a petition with the help of Bruce Ferguson and Lowell Peters. The petition to dissolve the Cemetery Association must be signed by a majority of the 168 residents of Ridgely Township. Another petition to ask the Dodge County Board of Supervisors to take over the cemetery can be signed by any taxpayer in Dodge County.

Jones plans on presenting both petition to the County Board July 13.

If the county does take over caretakership, state statutes limit it to mowing twice a year – any more requires a public hearing – and spending no more than $1,000 per year in upkeep.

“A thousand dollars isn’t going to do squat up there,” Jones said.
He said the county can apply for grants to clean up Summit Grove and will likely depend heavily on volunteers to chip in. He also points to legends that say a Native American burial ground is part of the cemetery grounds, which would make securing funds for clean up much easier if it can be proven. Jones said he has contacted the state archeologist, who is planning on making a trip to Summit Grove sometime this month.

In 1975, Fremont historian Clarabelle Mares made a survey of Summit Grove and recorded about 85 graves there.

“I’m finding it super difficult to find any of the descendants of these folks,” Jones said. “I found Bruce Ferguson, who is shirt tale descendant there. Jeanine Riggs, and that’s been about it.”

If he is able to secure the funding for clean up, Jones has a list of things that to do. First, the graveyard needs to be sprayed for poison ivy. Volunteer trees and brush have overrun many of the burial plots. Vandals and time have knocked over many of the grave markers.

“That’s a lot of elbow grease to take care of,” Jones said.

To aid in the restoration, Jones is looking for anyone who has pictures of the cemetery, especially if they date to the 1960s or earlier. He eventually wants to see a historical marker erected on the site.

Jones has also organized a memorial service at the cemetery for July 16. Veterans from Snyder, Scribner and North Bend will take part in the service, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. A luncheon at the Snyder Auditorium will follow the ceremony.

“How many people even know about Summit Grove?” Jones asked. “Not that many. This stuff happened a hundred years ago, and these people for the most part, 90-95 percent of them, are gone to the four winds. But it does deserve respect.

“We’re going to press on.”

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