Volunteers restore dignity, history at cemetery

courtesy Carly Willis KSN

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Highland Cemetery near 9th and Hillside is one of the oldest cemeteries in Wichita. The city owns the cemetery, but weather, vandals, and deferred maintenance have taken a toll on it.

A group of volunteers, Wichita Friends of the Pioneers, worked Saturday to fix and restore old headstones. Some belonging to the founding members of Wichita and their families.

“These are founders of Wichita. So we’re restoring pride in the community, family pride, we’re finding these stones a foot or two in the ground,” president of the Wichita Friends of the Pioneers Barb Myers said.

Myers and the group find broken, missing and even vandalized graves then call the family of the deceased to ask permission to restore.

For one grave of three children who all passed away in March of 1877 of scarlet fever, they had some extra troubles. Pieces of the monument were broken and some stolen, left in a ditch near Haysville. Once recovered, they were given to Wichita Friends of the Pioneers to put back together.

Some headstones at the cemetery are buried two to three feet underground after weather has washed earth over them. In the 1870’s when the cemetery was built, there were no true standards for how far or wide people had to bury their loved ones from other stones. Volunteers use a metal probe to find some buried graves, unearthing one with the name “Alice” on it.

“So right now, you look across and you just see grass. There’s a person there. So now we can pay our respects to them,” Myers said.

Cleaning up the cemetery began as a class project for Myers but has turned into much more. She estimates the work will continue for several years.