The North Bend Eagle

Summit Grove before and afterSummit Grove, before and after

Neglected no more: Summit Grove shines one year into preservation efforts

by Nathan Arneal
Published 8/22/12

Once again Summit Grove is one of the most scenic spots in Dodge County.

The cemetery has always provided a sweeping view of the Maple Creek valley. As one of the highest peaks around, it can be seen for miles. However, for several decades the summit itself has been less than scenic, a tangle of overgrown brush and crumbling gravestones.

See also: July 2011 story about the beginning of the Summit Grove project.

That began to change a year ago when a group of volunteers led by Martin “Casey” Jones took it upon themselves to clean up Summit Grove Cemetery, eight miles north of North Bend.

Diane Emanuel was doing some genealogical research about three years ago when she found out that she had several relatives in her Ferguson family buried in Summit Grove, including her great-great-grandfather. When she visited the cemetery, she was dismayed by what she saw. She couldn’t even find her family members’ grave sites.

“It was very overgrown,” Emanuel said.

She considered cleaning up the Ferguson area–if she could find it–but didn’t get serious about it until she read about Jones’s efforts. Once Jones got the ball rolling, Emanuel and her husband Roch volunteered to help.

Eugene Robertson’s history with Summit Grove goes much further back.

Fixing Summit GroveMatt Ferguson and Bruce Williams erect a fallen headstone as Lowell Peters mans the loader.

“My grandmother always took us over to those graves,” Robertson said, “and that’s when it was still kept up a little bit. We would go over there every year and mow. There’s several Robertsons buried there, and so we’d go over and mow the plots that my grandmother wanted to take care of. That would have been 50 or 60 years ago.”

Mowing Summit Grove was an annual event for Robertson as a teenager. He still lives where he grew up, eight miles west of the cemetery. Once his grandmother died, the trips to the cemetery came to a halt, and eventually the land fell into disrepair. To this day, Summit Grove holds special place in Robertson’s heart.

“We always liked going over there,” he said. “It was a pretty place until the trees took over and vandals got to it.”

Once he found out about the effort to clean up Summit Grove, he was quick to volunteer.

Don Andrews does not have any relatives buried in Summit Grove, but he grew up just a quarter mile to the southeast. Even in his youth, the cemetery was never kept up like one would expect a graveyard to be. Several neighbors, including Andrews’ father, chipped in to cut and bail the native prairie grass on Summit Grove.

“It was not as nice and clean as everyone would have liked to have seen it, I’m sure,” Andrews said. “For the most part it was pretty much left on its own.”

At Jones’s invitation, Andrews joined the group now fixing up Summit Grove.
Bruce Ferguson was one of the first to hear about the revitalization project. Around Memorial Day 2011, Jones stopped by Ferguson’s farm one mile north of Summit Grove saying he was looking for veterans buried in the cemetery. Ferguson lives within sight of Summit Grove and has family buried there.

“One thing led to another,” Ferguson said. “(Jones) wanted to get the cemetery cleaned up, and I said I’d be willing to help. Casey was the big instigator. He put the fire under a lot of us.”

Robertson said the fact that Summit Grove contained military veterans was a key to getting the cemetery cleaned up. The veterans brought attention to the plight of the graveyard and the support of veterans’ groups along with it.

About a year ago, the volunteers met for the first major cleanup day. Grass was mowed. Weeds were whacked. Trees were cut down. Brush was cleared. Stumps were ground. Several stones were found toppled and not in their original locations.

After several such work days, what had been a indistinguishable, unkempt grove of trees was transformed into a peaceful final resting place.

“The main thing that surprised me is how fast we got it cleaned up,” Robertson said. “When we looked at the cemetery a year ago, I would have though it was a five-year project to get it to what it’s looking like now. It just shows you what a group of people can do in a short time when they put their minds to it. It’s a beautiful place again, and you can see it from all ways on the highway and people know what it is.”

Work is ongoing. Several grave markers are being refurbished, while research on where the makers should rest continues.

Roch and Diane Emanuel have been doing research on one of Summit Grove’s unique features, an underground crypt that has fallen victim to vandals and time. At some point the crypt was partially filled with cement.

“It’d be nice to put that mausoleum back like it was if we could find a picture,” Diane Emanuel said, “but likely that will never happen.”

The crypt belonged to the Cruickshank family. Diane Emanuel believes that a pair of O’Briens, whose daughter married a Cruickshank, are still buried in there. She is also hopeful that descendents of the Cruickshanks may have a picture of the crypt in its original condition.

Even if a picture is found, the crypt’s restoration will depend on money. Emanuel said she hopes to get it cleaned up and looking presentable, but to really fix it up would require an investment of money from the family of the people buried there.

The biggest job ahead is to see that the cemetery continues to be maintained.

“Our main concern is to keep it going in the future,” Robertson said. “We’re all getting up in age. We’re going to need younger people to get involved in this in the future so we can see it is going to be carried out.”

Summit Grove is now marked with a sign along Highway 79, though the quarter mile or so of road leading up to the cemetery is minimum maintenance, something the preservation group would like to see changed. They would also like to erect a fence and a gate on the north edge to mark the boundary of the cemetery.

While there is more work to be done, the Summit Grove Preservation Group, in which Jones, Ferguson, Andrews, Emanuel and Roberston serve as officers, is happy with the progress that has been made in the past year.

Andrews said the cleanup process righted a wrong that had gone on for much too long.

“It’s something that probably should have been done years ago,” he said. “It should have been kept up down through time. As people died away and the next generation moved away, it just kind of faded into history. It should have been kept up for the people who are buried there, but especially for the vets.”

Robertson said Summit Grove is closer to the peaceful spot he visited as a youngster.

“It’s wonderful to see it the way it is now,” he said. “It was an eyesore for several years. That’s probably why we discontinued to go there because it brought back memories of what it used to be. It was in shambles.

“Now, it’s a beautiful place again.”

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