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MailTribune.com
  • Cemetery work nets Siedlecki new honor

  • JACKSONVILLE — Dirk Siedlecki has been praised for heading an effort that has restored the town's historic cemetery, and he credits his parents for inspiring his passion for burial grounds.
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  • JACKSONVILLE — Dirk Siedlecki has been praised for heading an effort that has restored the town's historic cemetery, and he credits his parents for inspiring his passion for burial grounds.
    "My parents instilled how much cemeteries meant to the community and the families. They were preparing us to be respectful and take care of them," said Siedlecki, selected by Mayor Paul Becker as the city's first Person of the Year.
    Siedlecki was honored at the Feb. 17 City Council meeting for his volunteer work, and Becker noted that through Siedlecki's effort, the cemetery has become a major historical attraction.
    As a child, Siedlecki went with his parents when they cleaned up family plots or placed flags on graves during holidays in the small town of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he grew up. The town was similar in size to Jacksonville.
    "We have a lot of volunteers, but our cemetery restoration is due to Dirk, and everyone knows it," said Becker. "Dirk has always been willing and able to help out."
    Siedlecki, 68, had a busy career as a personnel director for Trans World Airlines, where his wife, Mary, also had a career. After retirement they moved to San Francisco. In 2000 they moved to Jacksonville, and in 2006 they settled in Eagle Point, where they still live, to be next to his brother Lee.
    "When we both retired, it was time to give back to our community, and we've taken the time to do that," said Siedlecki.
    He's usually in Jacksonville two or three days per week in the winter and four or five days in the summer. He bought a Smart Car to cut gas costs.
    "How do you tell people you are working with, who are all volunteers, you are moving?" Siedlecki said.
    People were fine with the move but told him he had to keep showing up, he said.
    Serving at a 2001 cleanup day in the cemetery, Siedlecki said the low turnout was disquieting and the cemetery conditions were poor. In 2002 he headed the cleanup, and his efforts have grown ever since.
    There are now fall, winter and spring cleanup days. History Saturdays are held on the second Saturday from May through September, with docents talking about a different topic each session.
    In 2006, copying from another cemetery, Siedlecki created "Meet the Pioneers," in which the lives of those buried in the cemetery are portrayed by costumed volunteers. The October event, a sellout every year, is the main fundraiser for the Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery. Siedlecki is president of the group.
    Over the years Siedlecki has secured funds for restoration projects and worked on cemetery expansion and planning.
    But the leader is also a hands-on guy. With his brother, he has restored more than 150 headstones in the cemetery. On regular walks through the 30-acre site, he cleans up both natural and man-made debris.
    In recent years, Siedlecki has offered monthly workshops on how to safely clean grave markers. They'll start in April this year.
    Parade marshal duties for Jacksonville's Victorian Christmas and Chinese New Year's parade also fall upon Siedlecki, and he's active with the Jacksonville Boosters Club. But his service doesn't stop at the city limits.
    Cemeteries in Central Point, Lake Creek, Phoenix, Antioch and Cave Junction have benefitted from his hands-on and planning efforts.
    His eight-year tenure on the state's Commission on Historic Cemeteries will end in June, when Siedlecki reaches the maximum number of terms allowed. He served one year as chairman and another as vice chairman of the group, which meets quarterly in cities throughout the state.
    The volunteer work in the local cemetery is a labor of love, he says.
    "What I like about cemetery (work): In most cases, it's instant gratification," he said.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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