By Robert Williamson, Sexton
Beneath the aged pine trees, just east of the old silver fence, blanketed by several years of pine needles, lies a once proud hand poured sidewalk. This walk leads from the north edge of Dawson to the entrance of the Heim Cemetery, an eighth of a mile north. The Heim Cemetery, over a hundred years old, is the resting place for over 1200 descendents of the Pennsylvania German Colony of Heim’s, Ulmer’s, Wuster’s, and their friends and neighbors. A peaceful and tranquil cemetery, well groomed by the many who faithfully attend their fore fathers’ graves, stands quietly as a reminder of days gone by.
The long walk was a dream of the Ladies Auxillary, whose first meeting was recorded on October 11, 1913. The gathering was convened at the home of Mrs. George Smith and promptly elected as officers; Mrs. Della Utermehlen, president; Mrs. Boyles, first vice president; Miss Minnie Rutz, second vice president; Mrs. F.P.Page, secretary; and Miss Carrie Harbough, treasurer. Mr. and Mrs. Page and Mr. and Mrs. Smith were chosen to inspect the cemetery and report back to the group. In the spring the dead grass was burned and the summer grass attended by a herd of sheep.
Through the years the ladies saw to the maintenance and care of the cemetery by raising funds from dues, bake sales, and donations. Mrs. Marie Utermohlen remembered helping her mother prepare food for the many bake sales. Home made butter and fresh farm eggs sold the best from her recall. In 1915 the officers recommended that some one be secured to mow the cemetery and dig out the sweet clover, which was gaining a hold in the bare spots. The fee of 20cents an hour was offered … no mention was made of who took the job. The community quickly recognized the impact that the association was having..They quickly called on the ladies to serve area farm sales. Such an invitation came in February of 1915 from Mr. Miles who owned the ranch southwest of Dawson. Great care was taken in planning the menu. Special preparations were necessary as no refrigeration was available. And the current means of transportation took considerable time to get the food from Dawson to the Miles Ranch. Later in 1915, using the proceeds from the dues and the sales, Mrs. M.D. Ulmer and Mrs. Sarah Ulmer were appointed as a committee to secure some “seats for the benefit of the aged and infirmed who are compelled to wait in the cemetery on funeral occasions.” A committee of Mrs. Klima and Mrs. Porter were to purchase and have placed a toilet in the northwest corner of the cemetery. The bill presented at the next meeting for the construction was for $11.47. The organization continued supporting the needs of the cemetery and raising funds. The last set of minutes was recorded on February 27, 1945 showing only two members attending, Mrs. Rosa Heim and Mrs. Ida Heim, who unanimously voted to disband as an organization and to give the monies in the treasurer to the Heim Cemetery Association.
The sidewalk has outlasted the generation of devoted servants whose dream was put into cement. Each section of the walk was sold for $1 and the cement was hand mixed. The donors’ names appear on each of the 192 squares. You can read names familiar to the Dawson area, such as Draper, Wilkinson, Ulmer, Riley, Cooper, Kemist, Heim, Hummel, Albright, Judd, Stoltz, Utermohlen, Wuster, Miles, Newson, Triggs, De Weese, and Buser. Organizations were supportive listing the local chapters of the WCTU, IOOF, WMS, DAR, …and some not so familiar…ADUW, K&L of S. #197.
Retired postmaster Henry Georgi related memories of funerals of years past, when the casket was carried by the pallbearers up the long walk to the cemetery from the Evangelical Church in town. Two wooden saw horses accompanied the procession to give a needed rest to the casket bearers. Henry told of one cold, snowy, winter funeral of a man named Louis Smith. The Kinsey Brothers mortuary of Dawson held the funeral in spite of the inclement weather. The procession was made especially difficult from the church to the cemetery by deep drifts of snow and a fierce winter wind. Only travel by foot along the sidewalk could be made.
In later years the sidewalk carried the procession of persons who were attending the annual Memorial Day Observance. Mrs. Doris Stake told of the gathering one Memorial Day which originated from the church. All of the flower girls wore white dresses,the military units were in uniform with flags held high. The proud gathering was lead by local dignitaries and ministers. All ceremoniously made the walk to the cemetery where upon the special observance was held.
Every community in this great country pauses on Memorial Day week-end for a brief reflection of the past and to reverently pay respect to those who rest peacefully in their cemeteries. Great pride and care is taken in grooming the grounds and placing memorial wreaths and live plants near the graves. And so it goes on year after year, generation after generation, a thread of character that holds the past to the future.
When visiting the Heim Cemetery on Memorial Day, or any other time, listen to the whispering in the pine trees guarding the front gate who beckon you to take a stroll up the old side walk toward town. You will feel history repeating itself.