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Effort begins to resurrect Central Point cemetery

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune City parks planner Dave Jacob walks through the Central Point Masonic Cemetery. Jacob says the area will need as much help as it can get, but that thoughtful oversight from the city, and regular cleanup efforts, should help.

In a decision decades in the making, city officials have signed on to provide some needed attention for its long-languishing Central Point Masonic Cemetery.

While city crews have unofficially provided cleanup and dealt with dangerous trees and fire suppression over the years, city parks planner — and newly minted cemetery director — Dave Jacob said assuming ownership would provide stability, and hopefully a resurrection of sorts for the site.

City officials hope to recruit community members to help with everything from headstone repairs to regular cleanup efforts at the cemetery, which is tucked between Don Jones Memorial Park and Hamrick Road

The city had long put off becoming the owner of the graveyard, established in 1886, because of the legalities of running an active burial ground.

“The concern was that the city didn’t want to be in the burial business. We want to make sure it’s all taken care of properly, but there are lots of other things involved with running an active burial grounds,” Jacob said.

“We rewrote part of our municipal code to specify that if you do want to do a burial here, we’ll locate it for you, but you have to do the rest.”

The old graveyard has been passed between various volunteer groups in recent years, suffering from lack of upkeep and occasional bouts of vandalism, including a large-scale incident involving two young boys and four-dozen damaged headstones in 2011.

“There are still some plots that were purchased and don’t appear to have been used yet. The newest one was added in 2019, so people still have plots that they could potentially use,” Jacob said.

The cemetery was historically managed by members of the Central Point Masonic Lodge, but an ailing and aging membership dwindled in the early 2000s — their downtown lodge was sold in 2002 — and they passed along care of the site to Medford lawyers Aaron Nadauld and Damian Idiart.

In recent years, a woman named Sally Clifford took possession of the site but provided limited maintenance and limited communication with city officials.

At just over seven acres, the cemetery will still need as much help as it can get. But Jacob said that thoughtful oversight from the city, and regular cleanup efforts, would help.

The cemetery’s location next to the Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial, he noted, had long been a concern to city officials and to the late Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Vietnam veteran and one-time City Council member.

Richardson urged community members and the city to care for the site, which is the final resting place of so many early Central Point pioneers and a neighboring property to the war memorial.

Dirk Siedlecki, a former longtimer on the state’s Commission on Historic Cemeteries and president of Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery, breathed a sigh of relief that the city had taken ownership.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m absolutely delighted that the city decided to take it under its wing. I know it’s a big undertaking, but I’m really glad that at least it’s going to have some responsible ownership after all this time. I understand the city’s position on it because a cemetery is a difficult thing to maintain,” Siedlecki said.

Siedlecki said he planned to share details on how he organized a 200-strong group to care for Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery.

Since childhood, Siedlecki said, he has felt a sense of stewardship for old cemeteries and hopes to foster the same in younger generations.

“As far back as my childhood, it’s just what families did. On holidays, Memorial Day being the big one, we would always go to our loved ones’ grave sites and clean them up, make sure they were being maintained and put flowers on them,” he said.

“I just feel we have this obligation to take care of those who came before us. It’s the history of our towns, the history of our community and the history of our state that these cemeteries contain.”

Siedlecki hoped the community would follow the city’s lead in caring for the site.

“I think it’s really great that the city is going to now maintain it, but they’re still going to need volunteers from the community to step up and do their part,” he said. “This is no small undertaking, and the city won’t be able to do it without help.”

To sign up to help with the cemetery, or for more information, email David Jacob, dave.jacob@centralpointoregon.gov or call 541-664-3321.

Headstone workshop

Dirk Siedlecki, president of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery, will coordinate a headstone repair workshop with Central Point city officials sometime in May.

Details are being worked out, but the class will be open to the public. To sign up, or for details about volunteering at Central Point’s pioneer cemetery, email cemetery Director Dave Jacob at dave.jacob@centralpointoregon.gov.

Event details will also be posted on the city’s parks website, centralpointoregon.gov/ and on Facebook, facebook.com/CityofCentralPoint

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.