Overzealous cleaning in a cemetery in Lebanon has given the community a black eye, and it’s a shame.
The city of Lebanon is undeniably a success story for the mid-Willamette Valley, as it has recovered much better from the downturn in the timber economy than many other regions.
Locals and former residents who return for a visit can proudly watch the positive changes here. Over the past decade or so, the city has seen the addition of a school that produces outstanding physicians (the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, Northwest), the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home, the new facilities of the Linn-Benton Community College, a new chic hotel, new hiking trails in Cheadle Lake and beyond, a downtown revitalization and more.
Certainly, the problems remain to be solved – poverty, homelessness, high housing prices and drug addiction are problems facing almost all communities in the middle valley – but Lebanon seems on the right track and is heading towards a promising future. Even brighter days are ahead.
So it was disturbing to hear about a local cemetery that is so poorly managed that it cannot properly honor the past.
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For those who missed the news, the independent cemetery of the Order of Odd Fellows of Lebanon recently attempted to spruce things up by removing remembrance tokens left on graves. The reasoning was that memories left around gravestones make maintenance such as mowing the lawn and collecting leaves difficult.
So, without much awareness, the cemetery trashed the decorations including statues of angels, religious crosses, carved stones, poems, military memorabilia, American flags and more.
Understandably, residents whose loved ones are buried in the cemetery were furious when they stumbled upon the development and a huge pile of burning memorabilia. Reporter Cody Mann detailed their frustrations.
“It was like reliving my father’s death again,” said Candi Elliott, whose father Roy Burnsides, a Vietnam veteran, is buried in the cemetery. Medals and challenge coins, including one of her son in active military service, went missing during the cleanup.
Robbin Davis’ husband, Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Davis, was killed in action in 2005 in Iraq, and his final resting place is the IOOF Cemetery. “People have lost things that they will never get back,” Davis said.
The IOOF in Lebanon admitted that it made mistakes during the cleanup and that there had been a persistent but overlooked problem with the memorabilia at the graves.
Other cemeteries usually don’t have these kinds of issues because community members understand what rules are in place on the properties. Stuffed animals cannot be left on graves for months in the temperamental weather of the Pacific Northwest. And in other cemeteries, residents know how to collect memorabilia before regular cleanings, and then return them when the work is done.
The Odd Fellows have deployed a new website and there is a Facebook group to help keep the public informed about cemetery cleanups and other related events, including volunteer opportunities. And that’s a great start to healing the feelings hurt here.
We hope the residents of Lebanon volunteer – just like they did. It’s no secret that the pioneer school, 1968 Lebanese Union High School Class and others have been involved in the maintenance of the IOOF cemetery for years.
We don’t want to draw too many conclusions about the condition of the local Odd Fellows Lodge from this episode. In general, however, nonprofit fraternal and service organizations have seen their aging membership shrink over the decades, resulting in less volunteerism and philanthropy for communities large and small across the United States.
Lebanon’s population has grown over the past decades, but it is important that residents continue to grow.
Communities can do great things with a little work from a lot of people, and Lebanon should be a city that cares about its history, even as it moves forward.