WALLACEVILLE— Lola Deets pulled an old newspaper clipping out of a plastic bin filled with documents. She pointed out a man in a photo of five friends and said, “That’s my father working on this cemetery in 1982.”
Lola and the Smith/Deets family have been caring for Wallaceville Cemetery for 40 years. Wallaceville Cemetery is a free burial cemetery. Since the 1860s people have been buried there without purchasing a plot or incurring any other costs.
The Smith family first started caring for the cemetery in 1982. “Back in the 70s the cemetery was vandalized a lot,” Deets said. “Teenagers used to hang out here. It was an attraction.”
Deets’ parents, Lois and John Smith, along with local residents, decided to care for and maintain the cemetery. It was Lois Smith, now 86, who actually started the Wallaceville Cemetery bank account that has been paying for cemetery maintenance for the past 40 years.
The Smiths themselves do not have any family buried in the cemetery. Deets’ daughter, Shelby, has started to help maintain the cemetery, making it three generations of the Smith family who have donated time to keep the plot of land from becoming nothing but history and weeds.
The cemetery has graves as old as the 1850s, and some more recent. The oldest grave on the property is that of Samuel Hawthorn, buried in 1851. Since then 250 people have been buried at the free cemetery.
Recently, Deets started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to purchase a new headstone. The headstone is not for a new burial, but for someone who had been lost to history, Leonidas Jackson. Jackson enlisted in the Union Army on Sept. 22, 1862. Unfortunately, that is about all the information Deets and others can find about him.
Jackson’s headstone was destroyed or moved. With no date of birth or death, the Veterans Affairs Office cannot authorize a new headstone for Jackson. While the process of finding information can be timely, Deets wanted to take action now. “You know what, we are gonna get him a stone,” she said. “We know he is here. There’s evidence he is buried here. So we are gonna do it.”
The Veterans Administration (VA) supplies Deets and her family $1 per year per veteran to maintain the graves. Wallaceville receives $14 per year from the VA, even though there are 20 veterans buried there. That $14 is not coming this year though, as the VA changed requirements on the information needed for each veteran to receive their dollar. Deets put in the cemetery newsletter that social security numbers were needed for these veterans but no one responded.
In the Wallaceville Cemetery, there are graves of veterans from every war between the Civil War and the Korean War. Deets is worried about the future of these veterans’ graves. The Smith family has been sending out letters to raise funds for decades. “When I send the letters out we usually get enough donations to finish the year we are in, and to mow the next one,” said Deets. “I’m just worried if something happens to me, the next year we wouldn’t have enough money to take care of the cemetery.”
Those who would like to donate can visit the Wallaceville Cemetery Maintenance Fund at gofundme.com.
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