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Honoring cemetery history, one bouquet at a time

Zonnie Morrisette carries a bag of artificial flowers as Cheri Wickberg places them on graves at Hawkins Cemetery between Hammond and Roberts. (Photo by Sarah Young)1 / 3
Descendents of the Hawkins and McLaughlin families (from left) Lory Hawkins, Cheri Wickberg, Zonnie Morrisette, Joan Madsen and Jerry Madsen gather around the headstone of Lawrence Hawkins, who settled in the area in 1855. They took it upon themselves to make sure every grave in the Hawkins Cemetery had flowers on it prior to Memorial Day weekend. (Photo by Sarah Young)2 / 3
This sign marks the entrance to Hawkins Cemetery near the Town of Warren and Town of Hammond border at the intersection of 150th Street and 70th Avenue. The cemetery is the final resting place for many Hawkins, McLaughlins and McCabes, who were among the first settlers in the area. (Photo by Sarah Young) 3 / 3

Zonnie Morrisette can finally check an item off her bucket list after three years of planning and perseverance.

Her goal has been to make sure each of the 121 graves in the Hawkins Cemetery between Hammond and Roberts is decorated with colorful flowers for Memorial Day.

“It’s been on my bucket list to get flowers on every grave,” Morrisette said. “This is my third year working on it. My family thinks I’m crazy, but hey.”

Morrisette’s grandmother, who was a Hawkins and married a McLaughlin, is buried at the cemetery, along with many other Hawkins, McLaughlins, McCabes and other early settlers of St. Croix County who came from Ireland in the 1850s.

Morrisette, who lives in Woodbury, Minn., was born in New Richmond. Her grandmother strongly believed in the tradition of decorating graves to honor the dead for “Decoration Day,” she said.

Morrisette and four other members of the Hawkins/McLaughlin clans met on Friday, May 23, to put the silk flowers Morrisette had collected over the years on the graves.

She said she started buying them a few years ago, sometimes in bulk, at post-Memorial Day sales. This is the first year she has enough for the entire cemetery.

History of Hawkins Cemetery

Hawkins Cemetery, also known as the Old Hammond Cemetery, is located immediately southeast of the intersection of 70th Avenue and 150th Street in the Town of Hammond, near the Town of Warren border.

According to a 1989 history of Immaculate Conception Church in Hammond, Irish immigrants, mainly the Hawkins and McLaughlin clans, came to St. Croix County from Dane County and settled in an area in the Town of Pleasant Valley near the east fork of the Kinnickinnic River they called the Thickets in July of 1855.

In 1870, the families who had moved out of the Thickets area closer to the present day location of Hawkins Cemetery built a frame church, which stood immediately southeast of the cemetery.

The church membership eventually merged with what is now St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hammond in 1876. The old church, which still stands today, was moved to the original Hawkins farm, immediately north of the cemetery, just across 150th Street. The structure was first used as a house, and is now used as a barn.

According to Lory Hawkins, the great-great grandson of Lawrence Hawkins who was among the first group of settlers in the Thickets, some of the stones have toppled over or have been lost. Lory’s father fixed Lawrence’s headstone, which had split in half, with two black braces.

The cemetery, which sits on a hill, is surrounded on the sidehills by virgin prairie grasses and an oak savanna that are maintained by the Wisconsin DNR.

“That land has never been tilled,” Lory said.

The first recorded burial was in 1864. The last burial was in 1951, except for Father Greg Tolaas in 2003. Tolaas’ mother was a Hawkins, and the family made a special request that he be buried in the cemetery.

No more burials are allowed in the cemetery due to loss of records of the grave sites, Lory said. Morrisette and others have tried to do grave rubbings on some of the older stones to reveal dates and names, without much success.

Preservation project

Lory and other Hawkins family members are spearheading a project to commission and install a wrought iron gate at the entrance of the cemetery, as part of an effort to preserve a priceless piece of county history.

Jon Moulton at Elite Fabwork, LLC in Baldwin will build the bi-fold gate, which will be 16 feet wide, four feet tall and mounted on five-foot tall pillars with a veneer stone facade. The plan is for a Celtic cross to grace the center of each gate panel. Lory said they plan to have a written history of the cemetery on one of the posts.

“If we don’t do it, no one else is going to,” Lory said. “Many people don’t have an interest in history.”

The Hawkins family has set up a fund at Citizens State Bank in Roberts for those wishing to donate to the gate project. The estimated cost of the gate is $5,000, with installation. The family is hoping descendants of the Hawkins, McLaughlin and other families with ancestors in the cemetery will be willing to contribute to the gate effort.

“The hope is for each family to donate $300, but any donation would be appreciated,” Lory said. “One way or another, we’re going to get the gate built.”

The plan is to begin drilling post holes and pouring the cement for the pillars for the gate June 1.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the Hawkins Cemetery gate fund can do so by mailing a check made out to “Hawkins Cemetery Project,” Citizens State Bank, 500 West Blvd., Roberts, WI 54023.

For more information on the Hawkins Cemetery Project, contact Lory Hawkins at 715-796-5595 or Mike Hawkins at 715-426-5300.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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