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Clean-up crews pay respects to area cemeteries

After just three hours on Saturday, Medford's Eastwood Cemetery was transformed from a hillside choked with three-foot-high weeds and overgrown grass to a tidy site with painted benches, tamed rose bushes and a soon-to-be-removed mountain of dried dandelions and brush.

More than 200 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints descended on four area cemeteries as part of a regional day of service.

Volunteers spent the morning clearing away white rock and gravel, prohibited at the cemetery, pulling weeds and unleashing an arsenal of weed eaters, rakes and pitch forks across the 20-acre site.

Volunteers ranged from grandparents and small children to parents carrying babies on their backs.

Daniel Pedersen, 13, of Medford, worked to stack piles of raked debris and dried grass and helped remove invasive star thistle.

"Doing this shows we care about our community, and we're setting an example about how to make things better," said Pedersen.

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Schmidt echoed that sentiment.

"We're out here because we want to make it a better place, so when other people come to see their loved ones they'll see a nice clean place," Schmidt said.

While three local wards of the Medford LDS Stake were spiffing up Eastwood Cemetery, an Ashland LDS group tackled Talent's historic Stearns Cemetery and a second Medford group took on the Pioneer Cemetery in Phoenix.

A fourth cemetery, in Yreka, was whipped into shape by an LDS group from Northern California.

Ted Bennion, public affairs director for the local church, said with the church's emphasis on family and history, the cemetery cleanup projects are a perfect match.

"This is a great project for us to do," Bennion said. "I wish we had thought of this sooner."

Bennion said 75-plus members were slated to help at each of the four cemetery sites, but the work group at Eastwood numbered 160 or more by 9 a.m.

Medford resident Barb Rose said the event was a good way to teach younger generations to work together as families and to take care of important places in the community.

"We wanted to have some impact on the community, and this is definitely a place that should be treated with respect," she said.

"We want people to feel like, when they visit, that this is a place to reflect on their loved ones instead of just looking around at all the work that needs to be done."

Medford Parks and Recreation volunteer coordinator Bev Power said that without volunteer groups, the city would be hard-pressed to keep up with maintenance on much of the city's land inventory.

Power said people who are interested in volunteering at the cemetery or various city parks and waterways can contact the city at 541-774-2400.

Volunteer groups are provided with work supplies and treated to snacks and water. Over the years, groups including Coca-Cola, Old Navy and Walmart have volunteered to keep city sites in good shape.

At Eastwood, the city's only historic cemetery, the Medford Garden Club maintains the park's original entrance. Medford residents Rene and Lane Forncrook work at the site regularly alongside Medford retiree Ralph Finkas, who has worked on the site for 27 years.

"We just couldn't do it without groups like this," said Power.

"For the cemetery, we at least mow twice a year, but there's so much to do. And there are parks and other areas that need volunteers, too."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.