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MailTribune.com
  • Just helping out

    Caretaking couple take their volunteer efforts seriously
  • It's a crisp Saturday morning, one of the sunniest so far this year. After getting up at the crack of dawn and whacking weeds for several hours, Medford resident Lane Forncrook wipes sweat from his brow, loads his equipment into the back of his truck and heads out on a search.
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  • It's a crisp Saturday morning, one of the sunniest so far this year. After getting up at the crack of dawn and whacking weeds for several hours, Medford resident Lane Forncrook wipes sweat from his brow, loads his equipment into the back of his truck and heads out on a search.
    For his wife, Rene.
    He finds her being serenaded by hundreds of chirping birds in Medford's historic Eastwood Cemetery off Siskiyou Boulevard.
    It's a typical Saturday morning for the couple.
    Volunteer caretakers of the old graveyard, the couple are firmly attached to their role here.
    "I think she's still helping some genealogy people, but I don't see their car," says Lane Forncrook, his blue truck idling down one of the narrow dirt paths under towering, old oaks.
    Finally, he notices his wife's cap and the fabric of her shirt, barely visible beyond some tall grass and a moss-covered headstone.
    After guiding some ancestry enthusiasts to the graves of their forebears, the 60-year-old has unearthed the concrete border of a large family plot, where the name etched on the exterior stone has been hidden for decades by shifting dirt and grass.
    "We've found several of these," she says. "The family didn't put all this here for it to not be around 100 years later."
    She continues clearing away the dirt, happy with her find.
    The couple spend their weekends tending the final resting places of more than 4,500 former Rogue Valley residents in the city's historic graveyard which, even though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has endured minimal funding and sporadic volunteer efforts.
    "We used to walk through the cemetery going over to the (Siskiyou Cemetery) where Lane's family is buried," says Rene Forncrook.
    "We always walked through Eastwood, and we just loved it. Old cemeteries have so much character," she says. "And it looked like it needed some help. One day I made the comment that when I retired I'm going to check to see if I can't do some work up here."
    After she retired, Forncrook approached Medford Parks and Recreation volunteer coordinator Bev Power to learn about local volunteer opportunities.
    "She met us up at the cemetery and said, 'Well, I guess we could use some help with starthistle and some odds and ends,' " recalls Forncrook.
    "I don't think she knew how serious we were going to be just yet, and maybe we didn't either at the time."
    Although the couple started with the idea to "just help out," says Lane Forncrook, their involvement expanded from removing starthistle to general cleanup, to mowing and weeding, trimming trees and even taking a special class on monument repair.
    They recently mopped the mausoleum floor — it seemed like the first time it had been done in decades — and they've been righting tilted gravestones. They have even been using a special tool to search for markers hidden over time by shifting dirt and lack of maintenance.
    Lane Forncrook, a receiving clerk for Albertsons, doesn't see the couple's effort as a chore.
    "It is a lot of work, but we like it," he says. "I'm used to getting up early for work, so I get up early on the weekends, and we need something to do while we wait for things to open."
    Power says the couple are modest about their contribution but invaluable to the city.
    "The city is, and I'm afraid always has been, in short supply of help for the cemetery," says Power.
    "There's absolutely no way to put a value on what the Forncrooks do for the city. They are true stewards of the cemetery. We would be lost without them."
    Donning rubber boots and work garb, the couple say visible improvement to the old graveyard fuels their desire to continue. A handful of other volunteers help in other aspects.
    "The first year, we were just overwhelmed. It needed so much. All the trimming and mowing," says Rene Forncrook.
    "Now it's starting to turn around, and it seems like we kind of have a handle on this now. It actually looks like it has a caretaker, which is unofficially us."
    Lane Forncrook says the couple feel like they're "paying it forward," in hopes that one day someone will continue their efforts.
    "We would hope someone would do the same when we're gone," he says.
    "And these people were our first residents: living people that were here that had a story while they were journeying through life. This is something we feel good about doing and just feel like it's the right thing to do."
    The city of Medford accepts volunteers to work in city parks, the historic cemetery and other areas. For details, contact Medford Parks and Recreation, 541-774-2400.
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