Mark Twain

     A problem or opportunity?  It is the dilemma in Cowley County and Arkansas City School District.  It goes back to early consolidation of the county schools when one room schools were no longer deemed practical, and communities built big buildings and brought kids in from over a large area.

     Channel 12 had it’s reporter go down there at the request of a man who was looking for the location of his grandmother’s grave. There he found the cemetery abandoned and overgrown far off the road.

     Everyone is taking the facts seriously and there is no humor at all in this story, other than the fact that people have forgotten about where their relatives were buried, and somewhere along the line it was either decided that it was not worth the time or bother to take care of, or it was simply forgotten.

      I have written before and I have visited with my elected state officials over the last several years (or decades) to place the responsibility for abandoned cemeteries and grave sites in the responsibility of the townships.  From time to time there are news stories when a group tries to restore the dignity of an abandoned grave site or that, which is more common, the vandalism of these sites.

     Many townships already have a cemetery fund and mil levy.  Others do not and really don’t want to be saddled with the job, but under Kansas State Law if there is no activity (burial) in 15 years, the land owner is free to take up the stones and farm or graze over the site.

      Without the process of blaming someone there is an opportunity here for the community in the area of this cemetery to turn a problem into a positive.  Looking at the way that governmental entities solve problems is to attach a price tag.  Yes to throw money at this would not be an easy solution.  But here is a way to do something that will do so much good that the next news report on this will be how the problem was solved.

  1.       The ownership of the cemetery is the Arkansas City School district.  The opportunity here is to make this a learning experience for all involved.
  2.      Youth groups such as FFA, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts can all be involved in the planning and cleaning up of the cemetery.
  3.      Students in most schools have community service projects that requires the students to give back to the community in some way, this could be one.
  4.      The school board, township, county, and interested parties can work together and share planning and responsibilities.
  5.      Families can be brought back into the direct interest of the maintaining of the cemetery.
  6.      This project can teach critical thinking and thinking outside the box for students.  It also would not hurt the grownups to flex their minds either.

The negative that discovering the cemetery can be turned into a positive.  It can bring schools, families, governmental units, and churches into a cooperative project.  The benefits are many:

  1. Teaching critical thinking.
  2. Creating a cooperative atmosphere in the community and school.
  3. Teaching a positive approach to problems.
  4. Teaching ethics and ‘doing the right thing.

The story that can come out of this would be a great example for other communities with other problems to learn from. Also the legislature may actually consider the value of protecting these sites from vandalism and neglect.

Is this an ideal solution?  Well lets see if it can be.  Ignoring the problem just reinforces the attitude that there is nothing more important than me.  We should be learning that it is more important to do for others and do what is right.

It is time that the legislature write and pass the Cemetery and Antiquity Site Protection Act.  This will address a long ignored problem and set a group of guidelines and penalties.  As we respect our past is how we respect ourselves.

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