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Masons' adopted cemetery thrives under their care

Though the most recent denizen of Elmwood Cemetery was laid beneath the earth in 1959, the resting place of some of Becker County's most prominent pioneers appears well cared for.

Nearly 125 years since it was first deeded over to the Elmwood Cemetery Association of Lake Eunice by M.S. Converse, in 1882, its lawns are well manicured, its trees trimmed, gravestones neatly arranged.

Yet as late as 1978, the cemetery's 56 gravesites had fallen into a state of neglect. A front-page headline in the Detroit Lakes Tribune declared, "Elmwood Cemetery in need of custodian."

Though the Lakeside Falcons 4-H Club took it on as a civic project shortly thereafter, by the 1990s, it had again been all but abandoned -- yet not quite forgotten.

Steve Score, whose family moved to Museum Lake in rural Detroit Lakes in 1966, discovered one of the larger monuments in the cemetery while riding his bike past the site one day. The sight of its neglected state "just bugged me," he said.

"It was so overgrown you wouldn't have known it was a cemetery."

Some 30 years later, in 1993, Score's interest in restoring the site to its former beauty caused him to turn to his brothers in the Mt. Tabor Masonic Lodge for help. That year, during his tenure as Worshipful Master of the lodge, Score succeeded in getting the cemetery adopted as a Masonic project.

Thirteen years later, Elmwood Cemetery remains under the care of Mt. Tabor's membership, which currently numbers about 150 -- though not all are active, as about 40 of them live out of state, according to Kim Mollberg, the Lodge's current Worshipful Master.

While the whereabouts of the original cemetery records are currently unknown, Score has gathered up as much history on the one-acre site as he could obtain, including a copy of the original deed of sale by Mila .S. Converse -- who was, coincidentally, also a Mason -- and birth-death information about those who are buried there.

"The more you get involved (in tracing the cemetery's history), the more interesting it is," noted Maynard Anderson, another Mason who has been involved in the project for many years.

"You start doing the research, and you get hooked on it," Score added. "You find out one piece of information, and you've got to know (the rest of the story)."

One thing the Masons have discovered in their years as caretakers for the cemetery is that there are a plethora of Civil War and World War I veterans buried there.

Recently, they have been working with the Becker County Veteran's Service Officer, Dennis Warling, to get the markers of those veterans replaced.

"Some of these are so old you can't read them anymore," Score said. "The government will replace them."

"There are nine (veterans) that we know of -- eight Civil War, and one World War I," Anderson said, adding that when the new tombstones are in place, they plan to hold a dedication ceremony.

Some day, Mollberg noted, the Masons would like to hold a cornerstone ceremony there, which would include members of the Grand Lodge. In this ceremony, a stone would be placed at one corner of the cemetery, engraved with a brief history of the various Masons who were buried there, as well as those who have helped to maintain the site over the past 13 years. The Masons are also looking into the possibility of expanding the site to allow a few more plots to be made available.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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