The sweet, sharp smell of cedar fills the air at the Oak Grove Cemetery.
But it comes at a steep price.
Several cedars – big ones, estimated at 100 or more years old – were lost in last week’s tornado that destroyed some homes and damaged dozens more. About a dozen injuries – but no fatalities – were reported from the EF-3 tornado, and the cemetery, which sits on the southwest edge of town, was right in its path.
“It looked like a war zone,” said Pete Royer of a Royer Funeral Home and a member of the cemetery board since 1980.
The storm took down the front fence on the cemetery’s west side and knocked over dozens of grave monuments. Volunteers have been coming out daily to clear debris such as the destroyed cedars, to put monuments back upright and to slowly clear the litter the tornado left behind.
“It’s all volunteers,” Royer said.
Two of those many volunteers are Lonnie Harper and Bob Johnston. Both have family members buried at the cemetery, and both have been coming out daily to rake and clear debris.
“ … I feel obligated to help,” Harper said.
Things are already looking better. Dozens of truckloads of limbs and other debris have been taken out. Jackson County crews have helped with much of that. Now people can get in more easily and work.
“ … it was a mess. You couldn’t get in here” at first, Johnston said.
Royer estimates that 15 of the old, big cedars are gone. The cemetery dates to 1840, and he says some of the trees were 100 to 150 years old.
Getting the headstones taken care of is a large job, too. The first part is to set them back on their bases, held up by small wooden slats. Royer says that can probably get done this weekend. Later, epoxy will be used to secure them in place again. A few were knocked over and cracked into pieces. That will take more work, Royer says.
One of the monuments is to 15 men who died in World War II – from Africa early in the war to Tinian Island near the end – as well as Korea and Vietnam. Royer calls them the “real heroes.” That large monument will take some specialized equipment to get back upright.
He says the cemetery for sure will be back in good shape for Memorial Day and he’d really like to see that by the time the mowing season arrives, and he stresses that volunteers have done a great deal of work.
“The volunteers just started showing up,” he says.
Harper put it this way: “Oak Grove – they come together.”