Six members and their advisor spent the first day tearing out the fence, which was buried a foot into the soil. They also removed all the steel posts, and used weed eaters to remove all the grass and weeds. While we were cleaning up the cemetery, the farmer who rented the ground (Allen Wittenburg, a former student of Mr. Ruess, when he taught at Anamosa) came by and said he was glad we were doing this. He offered to help us with equipment and advice and let us knock over a row of corn to get to the cemetery. Allen said the land was owned by Beth Lauren of Fairfield, Iowa.
After we had torn down the fence and cleaned out the weeds and grass, we noticed a stone sticking out of the ground about 2"! Our list did not include a stone in the southwest corner. We started probing near the broken stone and immediately hit a stone about 6" under the surface. Members dug up our first stone--Suza, daughter of David and Nancy Mann, died March 9, 1838, age 16 years, 11 months, and 8 days. We believe this is one of the first funerals in the area, if not in all of Jones County, Iowa. This got us all hooked on this project. We came back with shovels and probes and started exploring for gravestones and foot stones. Each time we worked on the cemetery we found something new.
Nick Balichek attended a workshop to learn more about repairing and restoring the broken gravestones. He came back with lots of ideas and became the chairperson of the project. Nick was also appointed to the Jones County Cemetery Commission. Nick is a Junior in the Olin High School and serves as our 1996-1997 chapter reporter.
Things slowed down about this time as members were preparing to exhibit livestock at the Jones County Fair and Iowa State Fair, plus detasseling corn. The last week of July we got back to work by hauling all the gravestones to Al Wittenberg's farm (1/2 mile away) and cleaning them with a high pressure washer. We had to use a circular tip because a straight stream would cut the stones. This worked beautifully and the stones were gleaming white. With the stones out, we used Al Wittenberg's skid loader to level the ground. On one of the stones was "Tipton, IA." We think that was where the stone was made. Also there was a 9' spire monument on David Mann's grave that was laying in five different pieces (not broken). The top ornament was missing, but when we were leveling the cemetery we hit the top piece—a hexagonal sphere. More excitement! We did not damage it.
We decided to replace the fence with a split-rail fence and also were considering a large granite bolder with the words "Cherry Grove Mann Cemetery" engraved on the face of it to be placed near the Cherry Grove Road, on one of the terraces near the cemetery. We found out through researching the Mann family at the Jones County Courthouse, that the cemetery was really called Cherry Grove. So now we refer to our cemetery as Cherry Grove Mann Cemetery. We truly have adopted this cemetery.
Pat Shaw had given us two relatives' names, Harlan Mann from Idaho and James Mann from Maryland. Nick Balichek wrote a letter to Harlan Mann and in a short time received a phone call from Harlan and his wife, Betty, which lasted a for a hour. Correspondence followed with Mann family history. Mr. Ruess called James Mann and left a message on his answering machine. Two days later James Mann returned the call from Princeton, Iowa, near Davenport. They met the next day and went to the cemetery. He had never been there and was very complimentary on what we had done, even though we were only half-through with the project.
Pat Shaw invited us to a tour of five pioneer cemeteries in the county starting at the Johnsontown Cemetery near Center Junction, and ending at Cherry Grove (Mann) Cemetery. Nick Balichek and Mr. Ruess spent the entire day traveling to the middle of corn fields and pastures looking at pioneer cemeteries.
On this tour we met more members of the Cemetery Commission. Nick Balichek had already met LaVerta Langenberg at the July workshop. She lives near the Cherry Grove (Mann) Cemetery and played in the cemetery as a child. LaVerta had taken some of the Mann's relatives to the cemetery over the years and she had done research on many other cemeteries in the area. Also, on the tour were Steve and Donna Story, longtime cemetery restorers (their hobby). They demonstrated plotting a cemetery, witching for graves and gluing gravestones. They witched the Cherry Grove (Mann) Cemetery on this day and found three graves without any stones. We wondered about the open areas with no gravestones or foot stones. This answered some questions.
The opening of school was fast approaching with football and a lot of other activities for our chapter members. We wanted to finish this project before school started. The split rail fence finally arrived and we spent one day putting the fence up. Nick and his brother, Chris Balichek, and Brad Lasack started to glue the broken stones together. Burdette Holthaus, the farmer that made a list of the stones showed up. He thought there had been two spires in the cemetery, but we never found the other one. We went to the Martelle General Store to eat lunch and Burdette was there. When we went back to pay for our lunch, the waitress said, "Your food was paid for by Burdette." Burdette heard us talk about how we were going to put up the fence without a mall or hammer. He said he would go home and bring back what we needed. He did and he stayed all afternoon to help build the fence. We understood that the neighbors were watching our progress.
School had started and we were not done with the cemetery. Stones needed to be set and cemented in. FFA members spent three Sunday afternoons in September to finish it up. One Sunday the members started a small fire with some old boards and sticks that were used for gluing the stones together when a man called from the road, "What in the world are you doing out there? Don't you know that's a cemetery in there?" Another relative was heard from! It was Chester Dunlap from Cedar Rapids. Chester's great-great-grandfather was David Mann. Chris Balichek hurried over to the road and after some explanation took his truck over to get him. Chester just could not believe what we were doing and why. He had been there in 1995 and taken pictures. He said "I will sleep better knowing someone is taking care of it." The next Monday, Chester entered the Superintendent office at the Olin Community School to inform the administration of the wonderful job the Olin FFA had done and he left pictures that he took in 1995.
About this time Rosalie Ahrendsen, Cemetery Commission Member who had been on the cemetery tour and taken pictures, informed us that we were on the Internet. She had sent information and pictures to Richard Harrison in California and he started a Home Page on Restoring Pioneer Cemeteries. What will happen next!!
We plan to cover some of the cracks in the broken stones with caulking and we tilled the ground with a garden tiller and found three new foot stones. The members put grass seed down and raked it in. Members who have worked in the project are as follows: Nick Balichek (chairperson), Chris Balichek, Brad Lasack, Keith Lacock, Mike Ahrendsen, Shawn Sterk, Ryan Stolte, Jesse Von Behren. Others include Steph Balichek and Nic Wink. We have put one large granite stone near the Cherry Grove Road that says "Cherry Grove Mann Cemetery" and a smaller stone next to the split-rail fence with the words "Olin FFA 1997."
"We truly have adopted this cemetery!"