Kay Stockton remembers when the annual gathering at Friend Cemetery drew a large turnout. “People were coming from all over and you were seeing relatives you hadn’t seen in a year,” she said last week, going through cemetery records that became her responsibility when her cousin, Doyle Kelley , retired from the volunteer secretary. /treasurer about five years ago. Now she wonders if anyone will join her on June 5 at the cemetery pavilion on County Road 863 near Isabella.
During the annual Cemetery Decorating Day gathering of friends from previous years, loved ones decorated the graves of loved ones and shared a moment of camaraderie over a basket dinner. The Friends Cemetery Gathering has always been held on the first Sunday in June, Stockton said, a week after the nation officially marked the Memorial Day holiday on the last Monday in May.
The holiday, first called Decoration Day — and still called that in many areas, including Ozark County — is officially set aside to honor Americans who died in military service during the war, but in many parts of the country, it has also become an unofficial holiday to remember all deceased loved ones by decorating their graves. Most other cemeteries in Ozark County hold their annual gatherings, if they still have them, over the holiday weekend, with notices announcing the date and time published in the Time.
But in recent years, the crowds have gradually thinned out at many of these cemetery gatherings, including Friend’s. Instead, locals often decorate the graves of loved ones in the days leading up to the holidays, but do not attend official gatherings. Or, in some cases, family members cannot come at all.
The result is not just the diminishing of a long tradition of camaraderie and remembrance. This also means that, for some cemeteries, financial support is also decreasing. Since the beginning of cemeteries here and in other rural areas, families have buried their loved ones for free and then donated funds for upkeep. At annual cemetery meetings, it is common for the person serving as treasurer to receive checks or cash donations. Or, as Stockton put it, “We passed the hat, and people threw away whatever they wanted to give.”
Without these meetings, most donations must be mailed or delivered to the cemetery treasurer, whoever it is at the time, or deposited into the cemetery bank account. Sometimes loved ones don’t make the effort – or aren’t able to.
Meanwhile, cemetery maintenance expenses seem to continually increase, especially during a grass-growing season like this when gas prices for mowers skyrocket. For example, Stockton estimates that Friend Cemetery will spend at least $1,000 this year on mowing. “Plus, there are always other expenses, like if a tree falls and you have to clean it up,” she said.
In response to increasing expenses and decreasing donations, in recent years several cemeteries in Ozark County have started a new “tradition” – charging for certain burials, usually those of people who do not have a family in the area who could be counted on to donate for the future. maintenance of the cemetery. Calls to a handful of Ozark County cemeteries found fees typically between $300 and $350.
The Gainesville Cemetery Board was one of the first cemeteries in Ozark County to begin charging fees for those who have no other family members buried there. Board member Jeff Nash told the Time the charges began after new unidentified graves appeared in the cemetery several years ago. The unknowns in the graves were believed to have come from outside the county and were buried there to avoid burial fees charged in the areas where they had lived – and died. Gainesville Cemetery has since been fenced off and closed.
To help raise funds for the Friend Cemetery, Doyle Kelley, a native of Theodosia when he was Treasurer of the Friend Cemetery, after taking over his father’s job, came up with innovative fundraisers 30 years ago. Along with other relatives and supporters at the cemetery, he and his wife, the former Clarinell “Claire” Henderson, and Doyle’s sister, the late Mosolene Shaw, collected donated items including quilts, a gun and d other attractive gifts, and raffled them off in Hootin an Hollarin. .
Doyle and Claire, both graduates of Gainesville High School, were living in Wichita, Kansas at the time, and in 1992 Doyle commissioned artist Carolyn Hendryx, of Ebersole Arts, Crafts & Lapidary, to create an image of the village of Theodosia, imagining what it might have been like before the Bull Shoals Dam was completed and the waters of the Little North Fork of the White River were held back, covering the city. Hendryx created the “render” based on several old photos provided by Doyle.
Springfield resident Sally McAlear, who hopes to include the image of Old Theodosia in a collection of her mother’s childhood memories of Theodosia and Lutie, said recently that everyone knows the image, created from separate photographs of the ancient structures of Old Theodosia, would not look exactly as the village appeared at the time, “but it would.” (A story about Old Theodosia, inspired by Hendryx’s “restitution,” is planned for an upcoming edition of the Time.) Doyle had artistic etchings made from the image which he and other cemetery board members sold for prices ranging from $10 to $27.50 each, depending on the size.
Claire and Doyle Kelley are now 85 and live in Lewisburg, Kansas. Claire said in a recent email conversation that she couldn’t remember the total number of impressions made, but they all sold out and, in total, the fundraising effort has generated about $20,000 for the Friends Cemetery.
For Doyle and others who support the small cemetery, the work was an act of respect and honor for their Ozark County pioneer ancestors, perhaps especially those whose burial at Friend Cemetery n’ was not their first grave, but their second.
Friend Cemetery was one of several cemeteries in this area that were relocated when Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes were impounded. In fact, six smaller cemeteries, totaling 272 graves, were moved by the Corps of Engineers in December 1950 to what is now officially called the “New” Friend Cemetery on County Road 863. The book A Survey of Ozark County Cemeteries, published in 1989 by the Ozark County Genealogical and Historical Society, states that the original 1.05 acres of the cemetery “were secured in 1950 by deed granted by JJ and Louella Friend to Walter W. Herd and George Stafford, trustees of the new incorporated cemetery.” Since then, the Donley family has donated additional land.
A 1996 story by Michael Ellis in Ozark Watch The magazine noted that most of the graves were “pretty old”, so the bodies had disintegrated. (The first recorded burial in the original Friend Cemetery on the Little North Fork was a 6-month-old child, Jennie Coker, who died in 1856.) With the exception of one grave, all exhumed remains were placed in rough pine boxes measuring 18 x 18 x 3 inches.
The contents of each tomb were recorded, with some described as “nothing more than ‘dust’ or ‘black dirt,'” Ellis wrote, adding that other tomb contents included rings, combs, Masonic crests, eyeglasses, “a watch & fob”, “85 cents silver”, “a .44 caliber cartridge” and “a badge bearing the words ‘American Detective Association’.
One of the 272 graves that were moved from the land now submerged below Bull Shoals Lake was that of Doyle Kelley and Kay Stockton’s great-grandfather, Samuel Pellham, who died in 1933 aged 69 . His wife, Sarah Ann Duggins Pellham, died at age 83 in 1953, three years after the cemetery moved. So, unlike her husband, she was only buried once.
Since then, some of the deceased Pellhams’ descendants have been buried in Friend Cemetery while others have been buried in various cemeteries in the area including, for those close to Stockton, Lutie, Thornfield and Hicks cemeteries. She also oversees Welch Cemetery, not because she has family there, but because “there’s no one left to do it.”
These cemeteries, like many others in Ozark County, are run by volunteer board members who share Stockton’s concerns about the future and hope that the families of those buried there will continue to support them. But it’s a concern, she says, because “the old ones are gone and the young ones don’t care”.