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Girl Scouts liven up cemetery

There are two somewhat forgotten county cemeteries in New Richmond.

The larger one is on a hill behind the maintenance shop at the St. Croix County Health Center. A smaller graveyard, with 47 sites, sits alongside North Fourth Street, just past the Health Center on the north side of the road.

The fence and gate around the cemetery on the hill were old and rusty as was the forlorn flagpole. Some of the grave markers in both cemeteries were hidden by years of brush and overgrown weeds

That's how the cemeteries looked before New Richmond Girl Scout Troop 3209 discovered their existence in September 2007.

The girls of Troop 3209 -- Alison Powers, Emily Ostendorf, Rebecca Rice and Dacotah Prochaska -- all fifth-graders, thought the cemeteries looked "sad and in need of some attention."

Wanting to learn more about who was buried in the graves and why the graveyards were in such sad shape, the girls and their leader Wanda Rice, set about researching the cemeteries.

In doing so, the girls learned they were "pauper graveyards" where locals with no income were buried.

Their research also uncovered information about a building located on the county grounds near the cemeteries that was called the Insane Asylum years ago. Many former residents of the Asylum are also buried in these plots.

The girls found that the Insane Asylum was later called more politically correct names such as the St. Croix County Hospital or the County Farm until the name was formally changed to the St. Croix County Health Center in 1978.

In the Neighborhood Series book "Up On the Northside," by James D. Reppe and Mary A. Sather, the cemeteries are referred to as the St. Croix County Poor Farm and Asylum Cemetery.

The St. Croix Correctional Center (CIP) Challenge Incarceration Program took on the upkeep of the cemeteries in the 1990s as a service project, according to Reppe and Sather's book.

Due to the many demands on the CIPs as the community has grown, the cemeteries have not remained at the top of their priority list.

In recent years, the cemeteries had once again become neglected.

Armed with their research, a grant from St. Croix Electric Coop and Wal-Mart and a desire to make their community better, the four girls and Rice got busy doing something to remember these forgotten people in these neglected graves.

The CIPs agreed to help resurrect their upkeep program and uncovered all 187 grave markers in the hillside cemetery in April. The CIP workers lifted some of the bricks so the girls could clean them up and clear brush away from the graves sites.

Next the troop painted the fence posts, gates and the fence. One Scout was put on weed whacker duty in the back of the site to spruce it up.

The maintenance crew at the County Health Center helped the girls a great deal, Rice said.

Art Tobin, Rich Monn and Dan Inlow helped take down the flagpole so the girls could paint it and they put it back up when the job was done.

Ronnie Davis of Flex-o-Sweep made metal crosses to mark the graves, which Basch-Doboy employees painted white and the girls adorned with flowers.

A new sign for the cemetery was commissioned and flowers now adorn the flagpole area which is lit with solar lights and can be seen from County Road K.

"What started as a project to put flowers in the cemetery along North Fourth Street turned into a huge project which includes a sign and flagpole for the hillside cemetery that can be seen from the highway," commented Rice.

For their hard work, the Scouts not only have the satisfaction of a job well done, but they also earned a Bronze Award, which is the highest award Junior Scouts can earn.

"The Bronze Award shows promise to help others, improves the community and world and shows the Scouts to be the best they can be," Rice said.

The Scouts were most impressed with the age of the graves, some of which date back to 1897.

Ostendorf said "it felt good to help the people who died thinking no one cared." She said their work is a way to let those people know they are cared for.

Rebecca Rice said she feels "like family" to the deceased because of her involvement in the project.

Another interesting fact the girls learned is the former caretakers of the property, the Brights, chose to be buried in the county cemetery and are among the graves they tended.

The girls spent the past week getting all the graves festooned with flowers and making sure they were ready to be properly remembered for Monday's Memorial Day holiday.