A cemetery with burials dating back to the early 1880s that sits in a rural area between Ontario and Annex got freshened up on Saturday. Volunteers, including members of the Fairview Cemetery Board of Directors, planted more than 70 juniper spartan trees along the fence line which runs along the OR-201/Highway 95 spur south of Annex.
When the cemetery plots began being put there more than 100 years ago, it was just a country road — but as time went by, the road became a major thoroughfare, and eventually a “super highway with a lot of traffic,” according to John Woods, who serves on the cemetery board and is the caretaker of the space.
Early on, that wasn’t much of an issue, with plots located a good distance from the road. However, as the cemetery has kept filling up and plots are getting nearer the roadway, services can be disrupted by traffic and wind (which can also be strong enough to blow trash and gravel into the cemetery).
It was those disruptions at a service for her friend’s baby in 2017 that got Shelly Johnson thinking about a plan. Through tears on Saturday, Johnson described how her “heart project” was born after she and Sally Baker attended the funeral for Promise Hope Olsen, who at this time has the plot nearest the highway.
“There was gravel blowing because of the wind, and you couldn’t hear the music,” because of wind and traffic going by she said. “I felt so bad. I said, ‘We’ve just got to do something. We need a barrier between us and the highway.’”
Johnson set out researching and ultimately found some shrubs that would have cost $30 to $40 a piece. However, by the time they were able to get money together for the project, the cost of those shrubs had doubled. So she went with a different plan of finding trees that could overwinter well, were deer-resistant, and would provide foliage year round as a barrier for noise from the wind and traffic.
Johnson eventually bought 120 seedlings for $380, but they were initially too small to plant, and with COVID-19 pushing pause on many activities, she decided to house them in a nursery for a year. During that time, the seedlings grew almost a foot tall. And they are expected to keep growing at that rate, which will over the years provide a good buffer along the fenceline.
A lot of helping hands played a part in getting ready for the planting, including Johnson and her husband, Todd, who both serve on the cemetery board. Todd’s father was formerly a caretaker at the cemetery, before Woods took it over, according to his wife, Marsha Woods.
“And he’s still going strong, it’s such a legacy,” she said.
In addition to the Johnson and Woods families, Bo and Gayla Stearns, owners of Rustic Ranch Nursery in Weiser, pitched in for the planting. The couple also has provided a three shrubs and five ornamental flowering trees, including cherry trees and Bechtol trees (also known as bubble gum trees), which have blossoms ranging from pink to variegated pink and white. Soon, they will be bringing a golden chain vossi, which is a flowering tree that has trailing yellow cone-shape flowers, according to Gayla Stearns. All of the ornamental trees provided should get as tall as 20 to 25 feet within five years, according to the Stearns.
All the rocks that surround the trees were donated by 4 Lee’s Excavation, and the holes for the trees were dug by Randy Sartin, and Annex farmer.
Also helping on Saturday were Atty Hickey and her mother Ashley Hickey, of Weiser, Val Griffith of Ontario and Ken Parker of Annex. Parker said he had family there going back at least 100 years, including his wife’s parents and grandparents and a child.
According to Johnson one of the first graves in the cemetery were originally on the other side of the highway. But once property was set aside for the cemetery, those gravesites were exhumed and moved to the current location, with some only having markers moved as remains could not be located.
Among those buried at Fairview Cemetery, are more than 100 veterans, according to Shelly Johnson, with 20 that were not documented when she first joined the cemetery board about four years ago. She has since helped get those documented, and goes out and places flags on all those graves on Memorial Day. She said that over time, some people have forgotten about the cemetery, perhaps because of it’s remote location. Her ultimate goal would be getting a Memorial Day service going at the cemetery, to further honor those who served.