There’s an old saying that’s certainly been taken to heart by a small group of Dyersville volunteers — show me the condition of your cemetery and I’ll show you the character of your community.
The Mt. Hope Cemetery board is once again seeking donations to restore, repair and improve the final resting place of Dyersville’s founding father.
Fresh off the heels of a successful fundraising campaign that aimed to preserve some of the ailing grave markers, Board President Dave Kramer said that restoration work is nearly finished.
“We’re finishing up this summer. What we’re doing is straightening and restoring monuments,” Kramer said. “It took us three years to get the money and get the work done, but we’re getting it done right.”
Treasurer Sharon Gudenkauf said a lot of the monuments from earlier periods were not put on foundations, which makes them susceptible to deterioration and falling over.
But now that work is nearly complete, the group is setting its sights further into the future, namely fixing the road which winds through the cemetery.
“We had to widen the front gate because it’s hard for today’s vehicles to get in and out,” Gudenkauf said.
Part of the driveway was widened and a little concrete was poured, but she said the rest of the road running through the cemetery is in bad shape.
“It’s the original driveway,” Kramer said. “It’s too narrow and not thick enough. The big vault trucks are coming in and it’s cracking up.”
Using just napkin-math estimates, Kramer said $20,000 would likely be the low estimate for the work they would like to complete.
But Gudenkauf said they already have an anonymous donor willing to give $10,000, on the condition that the board can raise enough money to match.
Another vision is to build a pavilion that would include a map of the cemetery with all of the graves and monuments numbered, along with the names of who is buried where.
Once the pavilion is built, she thinks it will serve as an excellent educational stop for school groups who would likely recognize a lot of the names of the people buried there.
“We go back to James Dyer,” she said. “There are all sorts of different connections out there.”
Dyer’s overgrown burial plot is also something the group plans on improving.
“We want to fix that so Dyersville’s founder has a nice burial site,” Kramer said.
Kramer said additionally the board is looking to add more space to the cemetery, but to do so would require removing some of the old cedar trees on the east side.
“They’re about ready to go anyway, but they still have some years left in them,” he said. “We’d like to plant more cedar trees on the outside of the fence because we could get another 100-or-so graves where those trees are. And they’re all platted out for graves already.”
While all of these projects may sound ambitious, the group plans to keep chipping away at them one-at-a-time. They said they recognize all of these things will take time and money, but given what this community has accomplished in the past, they have faith.
“The support that we have received from the Dyersville community is amazing,” Gudenkauf said. “I love it — It’s just so exciting to see things happening out there. This place has grown on me — it’s a beautiful addition to Dyersville.”
For Kramer, his personal connection to the area runs deep as he basically grew up at the cemetery, spending many summer afternoons playing around while his grandfather used a push mower to cut the grass.
Years later when he became a funeral director, Jim Armstrong was part of the cemetery board along with his brother Dave.
Whenever there was a new burial at Mt. Hope, Kramer would call Jim to spot the grave for him.
Then one day Jim told Kramer he was going to visit his son on the coast for about a month, so he dropped off the plot book at Kramer’s house to hold on to in case someone died while he was gone.
“I said ‘Okay, that’s fine,’” he said. “Well a month went by and it got to be in the second month when I saw Jim up town. So, I called him and said ‘Jim, you’re home. Should I stop over and bring those books back?’ And he said, ‘Well, my brother Dave and I are the only ones on the board and we had a meeting. We elected you on the board and then we resigned.’”