DeKALB – Efforts to preserve local history at two cemeteries began earlier this week.
Helen Wildermuth and workers from her company – Stonehugger Cemetery Restoration, based in Nashville, Ind. – will restore as many headstones in Evergreen Cemetery as the DeKalb Township’s budget allows.
Once Evergreen Cemetery is complete, restoration of headstones at the much-larger Oakwood Cemetery will begin. Wildermuth estimated it would be about three years before her team begins work there.
Township supervisor Eric Johnson said Wildermuth’s company will receive $15,000 this year for restoration efforts. Wildermuth said this will allow her to restore 45 headstones at Evergreen Cemetery.
Over the next several years, the township will pay $50,000 to $60,000 to restore the remaining headstones at Evergreen Cemetery, and just more than $100,000 for Oakwood Cemetery, Johnson said.
Wildermuth said her work was born out of her passion for genealogy, but the cemeteries where her family was buried were too run down, and for a while, Wildermuth thought that was the norm until she went to a workshop.
“I finally realized that I could do something about these,” Wildermuth said. “It’s kind of become a passion of mine ... I hate seeing a stone lie flat on the ground. To me, it’s disrespectful of the person that was buried there.”
The restoration efforts involve Wildermuth and her team going through the cemetery and digging up sunken headstones.
The team cleans the headstones and restores them to their rightful place. If the headstone is too deteriorated, Wildermuth said she will discuss getting a replacement with the township.
Wildermuth said headstone restoration is a long process, and that restoring the cemetery could take a few years, depending on funding.
Johnson estimated there are 300 to 350 headstones at Evergreen Cemetery, and around 1,000 at Oakwood Cemetery.
Johnson said Evergreen Cemetery, which dates to the 1850s, was chosen because of its size and level of deterioration.
Since the township took over the two cemeteries in the 1990s, no upkeep except basic groundskeeping has been done on them, Johnson said. He met Wildermuth at a conference, and she came out to review the conditions at Evergreen Cemetery.
“We decided it was best to start with Evergreen and get this project started if we were going to preserve what was still out there,” Johnson said.