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Glass Cemetery brought to life

Grave markers at Glass Valley Cemetery, in the town of River Falls, range from very old to newer in appearance. The public was invited to a "Cemetery Walk" event Sunday afternoon, at which actors dressed up to portray a selection of people buried in the cemetery and bring some of their stories to life. Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia.1 / 3
Local historian Bettsy Terlinden has done a great deal of research on many of those buried in Glass Valley Cemetery, including Private Thomas Walker, a Civil War veteran and former slave.2 / 3
Volunteer actors brought local history to life with an annual Cemetery Walk at Glass Valley Cemetery, Sunday, Sept. 9. Shown are: Maureen Ash as Polly Webster, Jerome Rodewald as Narrator, Kurt Leichtle (hidden) as Milton Webster plus Roy Lund as John Webster. Submitted photo.3 / 3

Sunday, Sept. 9, volunteers brought the past to life, just south of town at the Glass Valley Cemetery, with this year's annual cemetery walk.

The event was a "huge success" according to town of River Falls Cemetery Committee member Jerome Rodewald.

"About 35 people attended including Patricia Mory from the Pierce County Historical Society," Rodewald said.

At each event, volunteer actors portray a selection of people who were buried in the cemetery.

This year, settlers John and Polly Webster and the Proctor family were chosen to be represented at the Cemetery Walk, said Rodewald.

John and Polly Webster signed an original agreement with the U.S. Government to take possession of and farm the land on and around the Glass Valley Cemetery.

They also saw a need for the cemetery, and donated an acre of their property to become the Glass Valley Cemetery.

The Proctors were among the original people who gathered together and formed the cemetery in 1863, according to Rodewald, on land donated by John and Polly Webster.

There were originally about 720 gravesites laid out. Only about 150 people were buried there, according to the town's records.

Rodewald said Town 'N Country 4-H took over maintenance of the cemetery 60 years ago. Rodewald's own association with the club goes back to 1959, when he was an assistant leader for Town N Country 4-H.

In 1974, the infant son of Linda Dusek was buried in a plot near his grandfather's grave. Dusek was the owner of that family plot. When she died in 2010, her family requested to bury her next to her son. This was allowed, Rodewald said, and the cemetery committee decided to open up for sale about 200 plots within the cemetery that had never been sold. Before this, a plot hadn't been sold in Glass Valley Cemetery since the 1930s.

Rodewald said Town 'N Country 4-H and the cemetery committee have found a lot of local history associated with the cemetery, which is filled with monuments and stones from the 1800s to more modern-looking markers.

As the lots were identified, for example, several Civil War veterans' graves were recognized, including a former slave named Thomas Walker, who served in the Civil War. Walker either had no marker, or had had a wooden one that did not last, as no marker was found on his grave.

Rodewald went to the Veterans Administration to see if they could place a marker but without a living relative, Rodewald said, they said they could not help. So, Rodewald went to American Legion Post 121 in River Falls. The Legion installed a grave marker that identified Walker as a soldier and a former slave, and held a ceremony for Walker with military honors.

Rodewald said the ceremony was "beautiful."

Many of the graves at the cemetery are those of children. Many children died in the cemetery's early days, of diseases like measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, typhoid, and more.

"They had some really tough, tough times," said Rodewald, "and that's one of the other things that the 4-H-ers get out of it."

He said for kids today, it would be very unusual to lose a classmate or friend to disease. Seeing those graves teaches them about the past, Rodewald said.

He feels helping maintain the cemetery also gives a sense of community pride.

"It's a measure of who we are, how we care for our deceased," he said. "Whether they're our own parents, grandparents, or someone else's, you know, neither my parents nor my wife's parents are buried here, but I think it's really important that we recognize the people that are."

That's one reason for the cemetery walks, Rodewald said. They're a chance to let people come out, see the cemetery, and learn about and remember some of the people who lived in this area, including some of its original settlers.

All are welcome at the cemetery walk each year, Rodewald said.

He said the Town N Country 4-H group had the cemetery in "tip-top shape" for the event.

The Cemetery Walk event was held 1- 3 p.m. Sunday, at Glass Valley Cemetery, located on County Road E, near its intersection with Highway 29.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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