KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — In places where the deceased rest in peace, John “Walt” Walters is saving history. One piece at a time, one grave marker at a time and one cemetery at a time.
Walters is the owner of Graveyard Groomer and is a cemetery restoration professional. From his home base of Connersville, Ind., Walters travels across the Midwest restoring grave markers in cemeteries. He estimated he has been in about 45 (nearly half) of Indiana’s counties.
This week and next, he is busy at work patiently restoring grave markers, with the help of his brother Larry Walters, as much as possible in the Pleasant View Cemetery in Prairie Township. John Walters was contacted by Julia Goon, Prairie Township trustee, who noted about $10,000 is being spent by the township to stabilize the worst stones. “I’m quite sure more work will need to be done,” she said, and Walters may need to return in 2017 to finish everything.
Pleasant View Cemetery, established in 1845 according to posted signs, is located along CR 200N, west of Fox Farm Road, next to the Pleasant View Bible Church. The church originally maintained the cemetery and at one time there was a Pleasant View Cemetery Association, but it disbanded in 2005 due to a lack of funds. The cemetery was then deeded to Prairie Township.
The township, according to Goon, has had other work done such as cleaning up the fence row, chipping and sealing the driveway and she and her family have removed some dead trees and done other work. And the cemetery is mowed by Scott Shepherd, an Atwood volunteer fireman.
Walters is a very busy man. There are only so many weeks in a year cemetery restoration work can be done in the Midwest and he covers a large territory. He typically spends no more than two weeks at a time in one cemetery and, depending on the size of the cemetery, may have to come back as many as three or four more times. “I often work through the trustee budgets,” he said.
“I do the worst (stones) first,” Walters said. Those are typically the ones leaning or falling over. New mortar is put between the dyes, the stones are re-stacked, leveled and stabilized again. Then he turns his attention to broken stones by filling in the cracks with mortar. “The cleaning comes last,” he noted.
Stones that have fallen over and become imbedded in the ground are left alone until ready to be set, he said. “It’s like a big puzzle scattered over one hundred years,” he said. “It takes a while to get it back together,” and patience is needed.
Some cemeteries have been neglected to one degree or another, Walters commented. “The families went (or moved) away and there was no one left for perpetual care,” he said. Township trustees do what they can with the budgets they have, he said.
Older grave markers in northern Indiana are typically made of limestone, marble or granite, Walters said. Limestone or marble are not as weather resistant as granite grave markers. The older ones have not only been exposed to the weather elements for 100 or more years, but today a problem can be large mowers bumping against them, he added.
Walters is aware genealogy is a fast growing hobby and “it can be disheartening to see one of your ancestor’s stones falling over.”