We have some pasture rented which lies east of the Bethel Church corner. When I go to the pasture I usually turn south at the Dale Andrews corner then go west past Norvil Miller's place. Occasionally, to change the scenery, coming home I go west to the Bethel Church corner and then north to the highway or on around west and south and hit the end of state highway J west of the Jerry Hunt home.
One of the things I first noticed on those trips was the unkempt condition of the Bethel cemetery, which is across the road east from the old church. The brush, weeds and trees were so thick that one could hardly tell that it was a cemetery.
One day I stopped and stepped over the sagging rusty wires which had at one time been a fence. As I wandered around through the brush and weeds trying to look at some of the headstones I had a feeling of sadness and even resentment that no one seemed to care about the upkeep of this final resting place for so many people.
About a month later I happened to go by that way again and I noticed that someone had cut and piled some brush down in the corner of the cemetery. Then I began to go out that way every time I went to the pasture and each time I noticed that more of the brush, weeds and trash had been cleaned off. I kept thinking that I would see who was doing it but I usually went to the pasture late in the evening and all I would see was evidence that someone had done a little more.
One day I noticed that the old fence had been cleared out and that some large trees in the cemetery had been cut and cleared away. About the next trip I noticed that the banks had been shaped down with a dozer and a new fence had been put in along the road on the west and south. And yet the mystery remained, who was getting things done?
One day I went to the pasture about the middle of the afternoon. On leaving the pasture I went west to the corner and then turned north toward the highway. On the way to the highway I met a car going south and I thought that I had the mystery solved. It was Noah Ray. A day or so later I saw him on the street and asked him. He was at first reluctant to say much but I kept questioning until I found out some of the things I wanted to know.
As I visited with Noah, even though he downplayed his role, it became obvious to me that he had been the catalyst for the project. He related a dream he had while a patient at St. Luke's Hospital about getting the cemetery cleaned up and getting a fund established to help maintain the cemetery after it was cleaned up.
Last spring, about Decoration Day, Noah and his brother Fred Ray decided that something had to be done about the condition of the cemetery. Their mother, father, stepmother and two brothers are buried there and they weren't going to let the cemetery deteriorate any further.
And so the clean-up, fix-up project began. Noah and his brother Fred did a majority of the physical work in the project. They also received assistance from Eddie Merkling and Charlotte Phillips from Kansas City and Grace Stutsman of Grant City.
All of the weed and brush have been cleaned away and burned. It has been transformed from a place of neglect to one of neatness and caring. The banks along the road on the west and south sides have been sloped and a new fence has been installed. There are now two gates at the entrance, one for vehicles and one for pedestrians. Both gates are on hinges and open and close freely.
As a person looks at the stones one sees names that are still in the county. Rowen, Hammers, Watson, Lang, Young, Ray, Hennegin, Andrews and Scott. There are names that I recognize but I don't think are still in the county. McHenry, Merkling, Deardorff, McReynolds, Moore and Burnett. And there are names that I don't recognize. Statts, Seitz, Trout, Lines, Horn, Tucker, LaMaster and Morris.
The inscriptions on some of the old stones are almost indiscernible but the earliest burials seemed to be in the early 1860's, The dates on the stones indicated that the cemetery was in regular use until about 1940. There have been a few burials since that time with the latest one being in 1979. One could surmise that the cemetery fell into disuse about the time the church across the road was closed.
A fund has been established to provide for perpetual care for the cemetery. The fund is not yet large enough to provide for the care of the cemetery. Donations for the cemetery can be made at the Farmers Bank in Sheridan or to any member of the cemetery board: Noah Ray, Fred Ray, Lillie Strain or Ruth Henry.