A Duluth-based AmeriCorps crew worked to repair several damaged Lakeside Cemetery monuments this month.
Monuments - flat grave markers or upright gravestones - throughout the 152-year-old Hastings cemetery are sinking or in some cases falling apart. The four days of work done by Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps, an AmeriCorp program focused on historic preservation throughout Minnesota, helped complete repairs at a cheaper cost to Lakeside.
"If we had to bring in real pros, I don't know what it would've cost us," said Rich Manke, the Lakeside Cemetery Association's administrator. "If we couldn't find a cost-effective way to get this done, I don't know what we would've done."
Much of the work entailed gluing broken stones, leveling sunken markers and helping minimize potential hazards involving taller "marble-tower style" stones, he said. Some of the stones were broken into four to six pieces and some weighed up to 1,000 pounds, making the work complex at times.
"I was impressed," Manke said. "It's a lot more complicated than what I would have envisioned."
Manke said that the cemetery will likely look into bringing back a Northern Bedrock crew in the future.
For one of the AmeriCorps workers, the repairs were an introspective and an almost existential task. Joe Pfau, a member of Northern Bedrock, said he reflected on the area's history.
"It made me think about things that I hadn't really considered before," Pfau said. "This is the last will and testament and the history of an area, based on who has lived there in the past."
It was Pfau's first time working at a cemetery and his first time in Hastings, he said. The work at times resembled work the Chaska native had done in trail maintenance.
"It was a fun project and I enjoyed learning about local history through it," Pfau said.
Cemeteries are a common project for Northern Bedrock's crew, they did four last year and have three more cemetery projects planned this year, said Jill Baum, director of the AmeriCorp group. However, they can run into funding issues with cemeteries' low budgets, and that can make it difficult to work with smaller ones with even less funding.
The five to six member crew typically work on cemeteries for up to eight days, but in some cases, like Hastings, it can be for four days, she said.
"Cemeteries were recognized as a need at the state level," Baum said. "They seem to be languishing in too many cases."
The cemetery's board devotes "a couple of thousand dollars" a year to repairs and attempts to chip away at it annually. Though with burial practice shifting towards cremation and away from graves, it's negatively impacted cemeteries financially, Manke said.
It complicates repairs and other work, but it is a priority. It is part of a "sacred task" for the cemetery, he said.
"Some of these stones which are maybe 150 years old are the last physical remnants of these people on this planet," Manke said.