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Local

Restoration continues at Searls Ridge

Steve and Dorrie Simon of Owatonna, Minn., stand in front of the newly erected Searls Ridge cemetery sign in Selby Township, east of Princeton. The Simons are part of the family group which has worked on the restoration and upkeep of the cemetery since 2007. Among the local residents working on the project have been Shawn Burkman, Barry Burkman, Ivan Walter and Rob Burkman, all of rural Princeton.
Steve and Dorrie Simon of Owatonna, Minn., stand in front of the newly erected Searls Ridge cemetery sign in Selby Township, east of Princeton. The Simons are part of the family group which has worked on the restoration and upkeep of the cemetery since 2007. Among the local residents working on the project have been Shawn Burkman, Barry Burkman, Ivan Walter and Rob Burkman, all of rural Princeton.

PRINCETON — Family members continue the restoration work at Searls Ridge Cemetery, with a recent workday and reunion.

Dorrie Simon, family historian, said the new sign was erected Sept. 19, during a family workday at the cemetery, which is located in Selby Township east of Princeton. The sign was formally dedicated the next day by about 100 family members who had come to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Searl family’s settlement in Bureau County.

Simon designed the new sign, writing the copy with input from family. Information on the sign includes brief histories of the cemetery land, the cemetery itself, the Ridge school and Ridge chapel, and the house built by Simon’s third-great grandfather Brown Searl. That house, built about 1856, is one of the oldest farm houses in Bureau County and was the home of Brown Searl’s family until the late 1800s, Simon said.

The cost of the new sign was paid through donations and family fundraising efforts, Simon said. Some of those fundraisers included family cookbooks, tote bags, Searl’s Ridge hats, and homemade wild plum jam. Other fundraisers included the sale of custom boxes filled with trail mix and baking mix jars of a Searl family favorite bar. Simons’ husband, Steve, made and donated the steel posts for the sign, as well as put them in a cement base.

To chronicle the history of her family, Simon has also written “The Searl Dozen,” having sold nearly 100 copies. Several of the books have been donated to area societies and libraries.

Looking at the Searls Ridge cemetery restoration project which started in September 2007, Simon said it is important to her that her family history be preserved for future generations and that people realize cemeteries are like outdoor history museums.

“When cemeteries are ignored and allowed to deteriorate, and markers are damaged or destroyed, society as a whole loses important information about our past,” Simon said. “Ultimately, an important part of ourselves is lost.”

Preservation efforts are more successful and vandalism decreases, when adults and children become familiar with the families buried in the cemeteries as well as those families’ contribution to history, Simon said.

On a personal note, Simon said she wants to show respect to her ancestors for what they accomplished and what they contributed to who she is today. There will come a time when her grave will be the one in that cemetery, Simon said.

“Someday in the future, I hope someone steps up to the plate when my gravestone is dirty, broken and illegible and says, ‘You mattered, you were important, and I won’t let you be forgotten to the ravishes of time and indifference’,” Simon said.

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