EDITOR’S NOTE: There is a volunteer cleanup at Sunset Heights Memorial on Trask River Road before the Memorial Day services, tomorrow Thursday May 27th from noon to 4 pm. See below for more information.
By Don Backman, for the Tillamook County Pioneer
“Then you just brush it,” said Lisa Sears, picking up a small brush. She quickly removed decades of gunk off of a section of a nearly unreadable headstone. A quick spray of water to rinse it and the grime faded. She uses a special non-toxic cleaner, one which is designed to clean headstones without damaging them or the environment, to loosen the grime which then easily rinses off. Some headstones, such as the one Sears was cleaning, require a little more work to remove more than 100 years of exposure to the elements and airborne contaminants.
Sears’ 20-year love of genealogy led her to visit cemeteries in other countries where she saw firsthand how they are cared for. Back home, she discovered that a lot of cemeteries in Tillamook County are termed Non-Perpetual, which means they are supposed to be cleaned and maintained by the families of those buried there. This generally doesn’t happen as most people don’t know about it. These often small-town cemeteries across America are often neglected and overrun with brush and grass, leaving them looking forgotten and sad.
Lisa Sears discovered that the Polk Cemetery Savers in Polk County is a volunteer group that addresses this problem. They do what she wanted to do – take care of cemeteries. She volunteered with them to learn how to do it, and now, after retiring from a 20-year career as the Director of Little Clippers Preschool, she has begun working to build a local group to do the same in Tillamook County. “It would be great to have a group to take care of these cemeteries, she said. “There’s a lot of history that is important to the community.”
Sears does more than just clean headstones. One important step is creating a GPS map of gravesites. The idea is that one day families will have a smartphone guide to find the graves of their loved ones. Some larger cemeteries have already done this and it is very helpful. A GPS map of the Sunset Heights Cemetery off of Trask River Road has been completed, and available in the “Find a Grave” app. Anyone who has looked for family and had difficulty finding them or not found them at all, can relate to this and appreciate an app. Many, if not most, small-town cemeteries do not have a guide at all, and when graves become overgrown their locations can be lost.
Part of her motivation to do this stems from a desire to show respect for the dead by taking care of their resting place. Sears is currently focusing on the pioneer cemeteries in Tillamook County and on the day of this interview was working at the IOOF Cemetery across from the fairgrounds.
Recently, Sears and a group of volunteers worked at the Nestucca Valley Community Cemetery, and before that, the Bay City IOOF Cemetery. In addition, on Tuesday mornings she works from 8:30 to 12:30 at the Tillamook IOOF Cemetery across from the fairgrounds.
Volunteers are welcome and encouraged, Sears explained. She has a group that is still in the start-up process and new members are welcome. In addition to the regular 8:30 – 12:30 workdays, she will be heading up a Pre-Memorial Day tidy-up at Sunset Heights Memorial Garden at 7800 Trask River Road. This project will run from noon to 4:00 PM on Thursday, May 27th.
If you want to learn more or help out, you can contact Lisa Sears by email at TCCemeterygroup@gmail.com, or 503-801-3101. You can also visit the Tillamook County Cemetery Preservation and History page on Facebook.
Don Backman is a photographer and sometimes reporter for the Tillamook County Pioneer. To support his work, subscribe to the free Tillamook County Pioneer. Backman can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Find him online at donbackmanphoto.com or on Facebook.