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SHERIDAN — On Wednesday evening, a group of volunteers gathered at Sheridan Municipal Cemetery for the annual spring clean-up of the small area where infants and children are buried.
Volunteers mow, trim, rake leaves, clean debris, plant flowers and tidy up items such as toys and stuffed animals that have been placed at various gravesites. Now that the area is clean, two volunteers will come to the area and place white crosses on each gravesite for Memorial Day. Additionally, families and friends will sign up to take turns mowing and trimming each weekend through the summer months.
“This is something we choose to do as a family,” said Wendy Gale, who lost her son Reece six years ago. “But I’ve had friends that have offered to come join us and that is really touching. It is a way to support your friends in their grief.”
Gale said although there are other children sections of the cemetery from earlier times, the current area is in the northeast corner of the cemetery and was started in 1972. The area has a metal arch that was recently refurbished by city maintenance crews and the gravesites have a variety of markers including headstones and simple metal plaques.
The current area has more than 100 graves of infants and children. Gale said because of its location, few visitors to the cemetery realize the children’s section is there.
Gale coordinates the annual effort of local family and friends to keep the area clean and attractive, which was started by Sheila Donahue and her family in the 1990s.
“My granddaughter died in 1994 and when we went to bury her over in the baby section it was so devastating,” Donahue said. “It was so overgrown. A lot of the headstones had sunk and a lot of them didn’t even have any. It was a mess, it really was. It was awful to bury a child up there when it looked like that.”
Donahue contacted other families that she knew had lost a child and together they began to clean the area.
“All the babies that did not have headstones we took their nameplate and put them in cement blocks in the ground so they have a permanent marker,” Donahue said. “We erected that archway. Rod Reimers is a carpenter and he made the crosses that we put up (for Memorial Day). We also put in a sprinkler system because there was no water there.”
Because volunteers do the maintenance of the area, the city allows the graves to have planted flowers, toys, stuffed animals, wind chimes and other decorations which are prohibited in other areas of the cemetery due to maintenance concerns.
“I just want more people to know what we are doing,” Gale said, noting that family members and family friends are welcome to participate in the clean-up effort. “A couple years ago I was there to visit and talked with a woman whose kid had been there for several years and she had no idea there was this way for her to participate. The word is just not out.”
“A lot of people don’t drive down that far so they don’t really see it,” Donahue added.
“It is very beautiful and kind of gut wrenching too to walk through there,” Donahue said. “It is a very peaceful place for parents to go who have lost a child. Now, it is beautiful and well taken care of.”
Gale said a fund is established in the name of Russell Hart, whose grandchild passed away. When Hart died, memorial donations were used to set up a fund that provides financial support for purchasing flowers for planting and other maintenance and improvements.
Gale encouraged families or friends who have loved ones buried in the children’s area and who wish to help with maintenance, to contact her at 751-4688.
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