Pioneer Cemetery Association lays loved ones to rest

Creswell Pioneer Cemetery Association Treasurer Jamie Pyles and President Tom Smith are two of the six members that make up the board. The board is made up of volunteers and their primary source of income comes from selling the plots. Aliya Hall/The Chronicle

CRESWELL – Surrounded by trees on the outskirts of Creswell’s city limits, rows of headstones cover the rolling hills. Graves from the 1800s are covered in moss, coinciding with freshly dug burial sites tenderly decorated with pinwheels and trinkets to memorialize lost loved ones.
The Creswell Pioneer Cemetery Association oversees the ownership and operations of the cemetery with their six-person board of volunteers. The cemetery itself is around three to five acres and has around 3,000 plots.
”It ought to be done by someone,” Treasurer Jamie Pyles said. ”Community-minded people, not always with a super-professional ability but a great heart. Someone needs to do it and it has great value to a portion of the community.”
Pyles came on the board around four years ago after he spoke on the phone with the association’s president, Tom Smith. He asked if they needed help and has been on the board ever since.
Over the years, acreage has been added to the cemetery a couple of times by community donation. Pyles said that in the beginning, one to two families decided that Creswell needed a cemetery and set aside land for it. The latest land donation was done by Bertha Holt.
”It was extremely generous and valuable to us because eventually you do run out of (space),” he said.
The board oversees operations by finding the right place for people to buy plots and maintains the property. Their primary income comes from families selling the rights to bury their loved ones in a plot. Those funds in turn go into road maintenance, storm damage and mowing.
After a plot is bought, the board recommends the Smith-Lund-Mills Funeral Chapel and Crematorium, which has provided cemetery services to Creswell’s Pioneer Cemetery since 2006. Marc Lund, co-owner of Smith-Lund-Mills, said that after the cemetery marks the plot, they excavate the grave and install the cement grave lining or vault, which keeps the hole from collapsing in on itself.
The day of the service, the funeral home will bring the casket out in a funeral coach. The site is then prepared for the service, with a tent and chairs, along with artificial greens. At the end of the service, the casket is lowered and the liner is installed and soil is replaced on top of the grave. Lastly, depending on how much preparation was done in advance, the marker is updated – which can take up to a month to do.
Pyles said that Lund comes to association meetings with an ”expert opinion and supports us well.” They have even put in a columbarium for people to store ashes or memorial plaques.
”Marc is a valuable advisor,” he said.
One of the challenges that the cemetery faces is that the number of plots ebbs and flows over the years. There is also competition with the increased popularity of cremation. Pyles said that 30 years ago, burial was the standard; however, those who use cremation will still buy a plot to bury the ashes or will add one or two urns to an existing plot.
”Selling of plots has dwindled some but we’re still surviving,” he said.
Smith added that he wants to see more younger individuals get involved with the organization, or for people to keep the cemetery in mind in terms of donations. The association has partnered with the school’s football and volleyball coaches to have their teams help fundraise and give back by helping clean up the cemetery after the snowstorm last year.
Smith, who has been involved with the cemetery since the early 1990s, said that his involvement is based on family.
”Just taking care of the cemetery; my daughter is buried up here,” he explained.
Pyles said that majority of the time, the cemetery is empty except for plots in the ground with concrete around them – until someone has a funeral service.
”It’s a crucial time for that family; it’s an intense experience and you see it in the way they approach it,” he said. ”They’ll be back up here daily for awhile with flowers and it means so much to them. That’s the rewarding part, making sure there’s a decent place to honor that intense experience for families.”



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