October 04, 2023

Bringing life back to the fallen

Samantha Edgerton has been working to restore military markers and headstones in Bethel Chapel Cemetery one grave at a time.

“I was into genealogy anyway, but then I had to find a way to decompress from life stresses and that popped up, and I’m like, well, I could do that,” said Edgerton on how she got into cleaning them in the first place.

She started her cleaning journey in Bethel Chapel Cemetery, which is located in Liberty Township about 10 miles north of Woodburn. Initially, Edgerton was just cleaning with just military markers, but soon her endeavors spread to others.

To clean the headstones, Edgerton uses the same products that are used in Arlington National Cemetery, D/2 Biological Solution. The solution works by gently cleaning the stones over time, removing mold and black algae. She follows the protocols for cleaning as outlined by the National Cemetery Association, which discourages such methods of harsh cleaning such as the use of acids, hard-bristled brushes or power washing stones. D/2 not only cleans the stones at the time of application, but continues to do so over time.

“It’s not to make them new again, it’s to make them presentable,” said Edgerton.

Some of the stones were in pretty bad shape when Edgerton got to work, completely blackened and impossible to read, but she’s managed to rid them of the dirt and grime that has accumulated over the years. Her sons help her with the cleaning, and Edgerton said that it can take a little over an hour to clean a stone depending its state.

Edgerton can only clean those stones that she received permission to do so. As military markers are federal property, she only needed permission from the Liberty Township Trustees or the sexton of the cemetery. Some stones, such as that of a 19-year-old who was killed in WWII, have no family left to take care of them, and that is where Edgerton has stepped up to make sure the stones will be around for a long time for people to look at and reflect.

Cemetery Tour

Not only has Edgerton been working on cleaning the headstones in Bethel Chapel Cemetery, this year she also put together a self-guided cemetery tour.

“One of the church members was very encouraging…[said] you should do a cemetery tour, cause I’m out there all the time,” Edgerton said.

Edgerton got in contact with Marie White, member of the Clarke County Historical Society, who mentored her on what to do and how best to set up the tour for people to get the most enjoyment out of.

The tour took place over Memorial Day weekend, and included a Bethel Chapel Veterans guide book that had obituaries and genealogy of those in the cemetery. There were also facts about the settling pioneer families at their headstones, and different facts and pictures could be found at various other headstones throughout the cemetery. Some interesting deceased included a lady who was well-known for her frosted sugar cookies, which could be found at her headstone. There was a gentleman buried who enjoyed mushroom hunting, so those were at his. Yet another deceased had recorded himself singing prior to his death, so he was able to “sing at his own funeral.”

In addition to the cemetery tour, the Bethel Chapel Church was also open for people to tour, and copies of church records from the 1800′s were made available for tour-goers to look at.

Bethel Chapel Church

The Bethel Chapel Church was built in the mid-1800′s by early pioneer settlers in what would become Liberty Township in Clarke County. The original building was a small, log cabin that served as both school and church. As the number of residents grew, so did the need for a more permanent, separate church.

The first church was built in 1869 on land purchased from John Short, and was dedicated in the same year by Rev. J.V.B. Flack of Pleasanton, Iowa. As the congregation grew again, a second church was built with funds raised for that purpose in 1913. The first church was dismantled and sold. Upon its completion, the second church was dedicated by Reverend Thomas of Milo, Iowa. The land was sold by Alva Wilkins for the cost of $1, and Andrew Welch sold land for a cemetery for $1. The cemetery was entrusted to the township, and Freeman Welch was the first person buried there.

On November 26, 1929 in the late hours of the night, the church was destroyed by a fire. A third church was built and completed in 1930, and that is the church that still stands today. It was dedicated by Rev. Darrall of Chariton. The foundation of the very first church can still be seen just to the west of the current one.

Memorial breakfast

In 2010, the White family decided to host a Memorial Day breakfast for veterans to honor the late Kent and Grace White. White was a WWII vet and had served in the Navy as a Gunner’s Mate on-board the U.S.S. Tennessee. White was present at the battle of Iwo Jima, and was there when the American Flag was placed, something his granddaughters Edgerton and Leah Henry-Doty said he was always proud of. White was a member of the American Legion and Grace was a member of the American Legion Auxiliary.

Over time, that breakfast turned into a community affair. Breakfast is served by the extended White at Bethel Chapel Church after the Woodburn American Legion Post 157′s service at the ceremony, and is open to all.

Lifelong residents

Today, the Whites are into their eighth generation living in Liberty Township. In addition to Edgerton, 7th generation, who takes care of the stones, her mother Cindy Henry is a township trustee and sister Henry-Doty mows the cemetery. Henry and Edgerton also take charge in putting 90 flags on the military stones in the cemetery each year.

“We take pride in it…definitely a very community oriented, family thing. We all kinda chip in and take care of everything,” said the sisters.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.