Oaklawn Cemetery tours shed light on the first notables in Sturgis history


Over the years, many people have built the city of Sturgis.

Some have been forgotten, but not all – not if the Sturgis Historical Society has anything to say about it.

This is how the walking tours of Oak Lawn Cemetery were created on September 18 and October 16. It took a team to achieve it, but Dianne Gorsuch, an active member of the historical society, attributes the idea to Jenifer Blouin Policelli, director of the Sturgis Historical Museum. .

They selected “Notable Firsts in the History of Sturgis,” a group of residents born and deceased from the 1700s to the 1990s.

After doing extensive research, different screenwriters told the stories, then Sturgis Civic Players selected the actors who matched the role and put together the appropriate costumes.

Oak Lawn graves have been marked and community members invited. When ticket sales opened, they sold out quickly, so more tickets were made available to each group and then sold out again.

For the Sept. 18 tour, it was unusually hot and attendees were looking for shade, the historical society’s Joanie Franks said. For the second tour on Saturday, many arrived in winter coats.

Notable firsts in Sturgis in order of period in history:

  • John (1787-1872) and Ardillacy (1798-1878) Sturgis, the first settlers, played by Doug Camburn and Marsha Loyer. Written by Lynn Jones.
  • Jonathan (1811-1893) and Susan Wait (1821-1909), the first entrepreneurs of Sturgs, played by Paul Rooyakkers and Tonya Purlee. Written by Blouin Policelli and Amelia Earl.
  • Dr Nelson Packard (1830-1897), built the first Sturgis hospital, represented by John Thierwechter. Written by Amelia Earl.
  • Mary Hackstaff (1832-1897), first librarian of the town of Sturgis, played by Barb Neff. Written by Earl.
  • Wallace Weatherly (1847-1917), was born a slave and came to Sturgis with a returning regiment from the Civil War. He was the first lawyer of color in Sturgis, played by Jeff Mullins. Written by Blouin Policelli.
  • Thomas Collins (1855-1923), first mayor of Sturgis, played by Doug Bates. Written by Blouin Policelli.
  • Helen Walton Bishop (1892-1916), first person to board a Titanic lifeboat, played by Jacqueline Harrison. Written by Rachel Boland.
  • Ray and Elsie Kimball were each born in 1889 and died in 1983. They were the first couple to receive the Book of Golden Acts, performed by Joe Rambadt and Amanda Camburn. Written by Blouin Policelli.
  • Clarence Jesse (1910-1994), the first pilot to fly solo from Kirsch Municipal Airport, performed on the September tour by Colin Eastman and in October by Matt Policelli. Written by Blouin Policelli and Earl.


The Oak Lawn Cemetery walking tour was a well-designed and creatively executed event by Blouin Policelli, Sturgis Historical Society, and Sturgis Civic Players.

Animated by life, historical figures have become more than names carved on granite. When members of the public heard new information, they often gasped. When the cast and writers showed humor, the attendees laughed to show their commitment.

Many of those who took part in the tour were transplant recipients born and raised in Sturgis or firmly entrenched. Some are history buffs. Jennie Kroncke, who brought her young friend Emma Hood, is one of them. The couple were from Hillsdale and Coldwater and are mesmerized by the lives of those who came before them. It was worth the trip, they said.

There will be more cemetery visits, said Blouin Policelli. This will be another group of ancestors in the city worth remembering.

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