Early church records indicate that the first Christian burial at Rush River Lutheran Church took place in 1855 on grounds that had been consecrated that same year. That burial was of a young woman who died during the birth of her child, which survived. The young wife and mother, first name unknown, and her husband Peder Bertilson Berge were from Martell and it was he who sought comfort, as we still do today, in laying his loved one in these sacred grounds.
“My earliest recollection of the cemetery was from Vacation Bible School when we used to have pinecone fights during recess using the gravestones as shields. We quickly learned from our teachers, however, that the cemetery was not a place to play.”
We learned that the cemetery was hallowed ground and that playing on or around gravestones was not only disrespectful, but could be dangerous if they were to fall.
The next milestone in my awareness of the cemetery was when my grandfather died and we buried him in the cemetery. His death and burial there gave a clearer definition of what a cemetery means to an individual and a family. Today, some fifty years later, besides my grandfather, I regularly go to visit my grandmother, my great grandparents, a great-great grandmother, and my parents. Besides family, there are many friends and neighbors who bring back memories when I visit.
I especially learned to appreciate its beauty, history and sense of place when I was fifteen as that summer and the two summers after, I was hired to mow the grounds. I soon became aware of its expanse and hills while walking behind the Cemetery Association’s new Jacobsen self propelled walk behind 26-inch wide mower. I also came to the realization that there were hundreds of grave stones, all of which were contemplated on my knees while I used my hand held and hand powered grass clippers to trim around them.
“I enjoyed looking at the Norwegian writing on the stones in the southwest corner of the cemetery. I felt a sense of awe in reading the stones telling that someone was born in the 1700s or had fought in the Civil War. I was humbled by the number flags present on Memorial Day commemorating veterans and those who fought in wars and of those who died doing so.”
I still have nightmares in which it is Memorial Day and the cemetery is not mowed and is overrun with dandelions!
The Rush River Lutheran Church Cemetery Association is responsible for the upkeep and records of the cemetery. A current project is the planting of trees to replace those lost over the years – there are four new swamp white oaks growing to someday replace the old giants!
The Cemetery Association recently received a memorial from a long-term member of the church. Some of that gift will be used to straighten leaning stones. Work is also progressing on new and improved maps to help family members and friends locate the graves of loved ones.
Many thanks to Don Austrum, for writing this piece and sharing memories here!