Waseca County Pioneer 111 W. Elm Ave.

Waseca, MN (507) 837-6767


Rustic cemeteries provide serene atmosphere

I was led to the idea of writing an article about “abandoned” cemeteries when county facilities manager Brian Tomford appeared before the Waseca County board of commissioners requesting their approval for a policy which specifies some of the expectations surrounding county-managed cemeteries.
What took me by the most surprise is that the county manages any cemeteries: I’ve always associated those with churches and cities.  But as you will learn should you choose to read the article in next week’s edition, state law specifies that if no one else is taking care of a historic burial site, its maintenance falls to the county. Thus, along with the county’s buildings, parks, and other locations, Brian gets to oversee five cemeteries.
When I interviewed him, we had an interesting discussion regarding those five sites, including their size, location, state of upkeep, access, and much more. All that is summarized in the article.
What’s not summarized is the colossal coincidence that occurred afterward.
I’ve mentioned in previous columns that New Richland area resident Cindy Coy and I are “crazy,” that is, we do crazy things together including volunteering to ring the bell for the Salvation Army this past December and helping hand out bargain-priced food at “Ruby’s Pantry.”
Mike, her partner of more than 40 years, was disastrously diagnosed with incurable cancer a few months ago. I have had repeated opportunities to admire the practical dignity and quiet grace with which Mike is facing what’s to come.
During a recent conversation, I was sharing what stories I was in the process of writing for the newspaper. I mentioned the cemetery story and learned that Mike was one of those “rare” people requesting burial in one of the county-managed sites–what are the chances?
After finding that out, I couldn’t resist.
By the time of the conversation, I had already driven out to Freedom Free cemetery–after learning about the statue of the Civil War veteran there, I was anxious to see it. It’s a remote place. At this time of year, rather a bleak place. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike it. I rather agree with the county’s policy about preserving the “serene” environment. There was a rustic beauty that shone through even under the recent coating of snow.
But I was also aware there are plenty of people who would find it too remote, too rustic, and too unkempt for their tastes.
When I learned Mike has made the decision to be buried in just such a place, I had to ask him whether he was willing to share his reasons why.
As further evidence of his dignity and grace, he responded without any hesitation.
Now, I’ve mentioned before I believe unquestioningly that life continues after we leave the temporal plane, and so I don’t think of graves as the proverbial “eternal resting place.” But Mike’s answers to my questions–that he has family buried in the Radloff cemetery, that he used to play there with his siblings and cousins–gave extra meaning to the county’s policy about preserving the serene nature of these “abandoned” properties.
In fact, it completely undid the idea that these places are “abandoned” at all. To generations who have gone before, their journey there was also “going home.” Mike’s perspective changed a simple news story about the county’s responsibility to take over management of these sites into a feeling of reassurance and gratitude; it made me glad there is a system in place to ensure these cemeteries are cared for.


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