OSSIAN, Ind. (WPTA21) – Off National Road 1 in Ossian is a forgotten cemetery that is now teeming with life. Interrupting more than a century of absolute calm, the sounds of chainsaws and heavy machinery. Less than a year ago, the land off Young Street was overgrown with brush and dying trees, that is, until the Heckber family stepped in.
“About ten years ago I got involved in ancestry and found out I had a great-great-grandmother here,” Larry Heckber told us. “Actually, I didn’t know she existed!” But it wasn’t until his retirement that he finally had time to explore his family history. When he first visited the old cemetery of Ossian, he was surprised by its deplorable state.
The cemetery dates from 1847, a year after Ossian was founded. Heckber began to reflect on his long past. “There is no record that anyone paid to bury anyone here,” he said. “There is no record that anyone supervised him!” Pair poor maintenance with bouts of vandalism, a document reveals the cemetery was already in a horrible state in the early 1900s. So much so that 84 bodies were moved to the newer and more attractive Oak Lawn Cemetery .
Heckber’s retired passion project turned into a community project: the Restoration of the old historic cemetery of Ossian. But it wasn’t something he could do alone. He would need the help of many other Heckbers. “Two of my daughters are giving writing scholarships — one of my daughters is good at building a Facebook site for us and keeping it up to date,” he explained. “Three brothers helped with the project…I have a number of nephews and great-nephews who also helped with the project.” And there is no shortage of other volunteers. He will soon be working with scout troops outside Bluffton – however, due to the dangerous nature of felling rotten trees, help has had to be restricted. “So far we’ve probably got 40 volunteers helping out on different parts of it, and we’ve put in 500 hours.”
Heckber’s nephew Deke is a lineman and was the perfect person to recruit to help clear the branches and trees so they don’t damage the headstones even further. “I’ll be looking down a lot to see what’s underneath me – I don’t want to break anything that isn’t already broken!” he told us. Deke Heckber was there with his family when they made a surprise discovery. “It was really neat last week when we found our great-great-great-grandmother’s grave – her headstone.” Although he runs his own business, he takes the time to help his uncle with the ambitious catering. “Families are important,” he added. “That’s what you do.”
The remarkable transformation has taken place over the past two weeks. Before the end of the summer, the cleaning of the property will be finished. “He’s been forgotten, and it’s time he got some attention and brought up to the standards of what he should be,” Heckber said. There are still some in store for next year. The longtime Wells County resident plans a large headstone with the names of everyone buried there. A separate memorial will also be erected there for thirteen Civil War veterans.
Heckber hired a specialist company in Nashville, Indiana to restore each broken headstone. The projected cost of this service: nearly $100,000. They have already received a $10,000 donation from a family that supports their work. If you would like to help, you can do so by making a donation to the Wells County Foundation, Inc. website, specifying the Restoration of the old historic cemetery of Ossian project.
Larry Heckber is still compiling information on people buried there. Below are the names of those he confirmed were buried in Old Ossian Cemetery. If your deceased relative is listed on the spreadsheet below and you have information to share, you can contact them through their Facebook page. You can also view progress photos and keep up to date with the progress of the project.
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