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Restoration of the cross

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune A cross is dedicated and blessed during a ceremony March 31 at the Catholic section of the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune A cross was recently restored at the Catholic section of the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery.
Volunteer effort brings new beauty to Jacksonville Cemetery fixture

A large cross in the Catholic section of the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery has been restored under a volunteer effort led by local resident John Howell.

The cross has a new look with old-growth redwood covering the original metal frame and a new crucifix attached to replace one that had been missing for some time.

A blessing ceremony for the cross was held March 31, presided over by Father Ken Sampson of Sacred Heart Church of Medford. Attendees brought flowers to the ceremony.

“It’s really been a volunteer project, the whole thing. It was just a grassroots thing that took off,” said Howell. “There’s no money out of pocket other than donations for a few things.”

An origin date for the cross is uncertain, but people familiar with the cemetery said it had been in a state of neglect for several decades. The cross is five feet tall with arms that measure three feet across. It sits atop a 5-foot-tall pedestal.

Howell, who previously lived in town and now lives near Jacksonville, would walk his dog in the cemetery under the trees during hotter weather. It was during one of those trips that he noticed the condition of the cross.

Howell conferred with a Catholic friend, Glen Cote, who assisted him throughout the project, which took about eight months since the original inspiration. Howell, Cote and others completed final assembly of the project March 2.

Because the cross is in the Catholic section of the cemetery, approval had to be given by the local Catholic church that owns the property. Other religious and fraternal organizations also have sections in the city-run cemetery. Cote secured permission to go ahead from Sampson. Cote and Sampson collaborated with Howell on the design.

Howell also worked with cemetery Sexton Rick Shields and Dirk Siedlecki, president of The Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery.

A stainless-steel crucifix was created by using a plasma cutter. Bill Ziegler from Southern Oregon Waterjet Solutions donated labor and material for the cut-out of the stainless-steel figure. Howell and Cote went through a book looking at pictures of crucifixes before they found one that provided a model for the piece.

A group that mentors young people, which asked to remain anonymous, donated and milled old-growth redwood for the cross. Volunteers then sanded and finished the redwood, and an image of a rabbit was put on the back of the wood.

The metal cross frame was in disrepair. It had been painted white but rust was showing through and staining it, Howell reported. Viewed from the front, the wood pieces now cover the metal frame.

The frame was sawed off from the concrete pedestal, leaving stubs for later reattachment. It was then powder-coated to provide better protection against the elements and reinstalled.

“A lot of volunteers contributed money to do the power coating. The stainless-steel crucifix was a volunteer thing,” said Howell.

Besides the cross, the pedestal that it sits on will be getting attention. Retired Jacksonville mason Vince Valencia has offered to strip off stucco, clean the base and refinish it with a concrete preservative. Pedestal cracks were repaired and it was touched up quite a few years ago, but it needs more attention now, said Siedlecki.

The early history off the cross and its origin is unknown. Siedlecki said he has seen a photo that shows a group of school children around the cross, which he thought may have been taken in the 1950s.

Shields, who has served in his position for 24 years, recalled the cross being there when he started and that it has been in disrepair for much of that time. While no repairs were done, people did sit on a bench near the cross, and the area was apparently taken care of by volunteers.

Howell, who has lived in the area for 40 years, recalled that his kids loved to run up the hill to the cemetery after visiting a bakery. He’d drive up later to pick them up.

“It really came out beautifully. I’m delighted that they are doing it,” said Siedlecki. “John took it and ran with it.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.