Something unprecedented happened at the Bentley Cemetery June 2. The usually restful cemetery came alive with a flurry of activity.
Rain clouds threatened to the west and to the south and poured rain but not enough was spit at the cemetery to slow work.
A community work bee had been organized and people showed up with push lawn mowers, half a dozen ride-on lawn mowers, weed whackers, chain saws, shovels, rakes, pruners, loppers, half-tons, some trucks with trailers, and some bigger equipment including a tractor with loader and roto-tiller.
The entire eastern perimeter chain link fence area was cleaned up of deadfall and old native bush. Donated black dirt was hauled in, some sunken areas leveled, and grass seeded. Headstones were trimmed around and some lifted and levelled. Weeds were picked and grass was mowed and trimmed.
Lots of trees and bushes were pruned and removed. Some big overgrown lilac bushes and one old spruce tree more than 50 years old that had faithfully been kept neatly trimmed in a round decorative shape were totally removed, to find the spruce tree was hiding from sight the back of a beautiful headstone.
Volunteers picked up limbs, branches, roots, weeds and raked grass, loaded them into their trucks or trailers and hauled them to the south end of the property where they were unloaded by hand and pushed by tractor into the smallest pile possible.
The final task for the day, around 3:40 p.m., included removing the old walk-through gateposts at the northwest corner. Future plans include installing a new gate in the now 15-foot gap.
It appears to be the first time the Bentley Cemetery, run by a volunteer board, has had community volunteers converge in an organized work bee.
An estimated 30 people had put in time by the end of the afternoon. There were a number from the Garries, Dickau, and Schneider families and many other individuals too numerous to mention who answered the call to help.
Bryce McLachlan came with his 57 HP front wheel drive assist Montana tractor with loader and roto-tiller and did a remarkable job doing the bigger tasks, and wife Carol had a tractor with a bigger mower that covered ground more quickly. Scott Garries had donated black dirt and the hauling of it.
The work bee, spearheaded and organized by Pam Hansen, was scheduled to start at 1:00 p.m. but with threatening skies some people showed up as early as 10:15 a.m. to try to get an early start. At 3:30 p.m. some volunteers were still there.
Inga Schneider supplied thermoses and jugs of coffee, water and juice and some homemade cookies for the volunteers.
The Schneiders were impressed and pleasantly surprised by the number who turned out to help.
“There have been times when two or three extra people would help (maintenance man Martin Schneider) over the years,” said Inga Schneider, “but nothing had been organized like this. It was just great.”
“The big guy is looking down on us and approved,” said Martin Schneider, appointed foreman for the day who had retired in the spring of 2012 after 39 years as the maintenance man. “We were lucky. Aren’t I doing a good job?” he said, all smiles at the amount of help and the enthusiasm of the group.
Schneider explained people don’t realize how planting trees can make maintaining the area much harder in the long run with the passage of time, and by planting flowers in the middle of a plot, a lawn mower can no longer be run down the area to keep the grass trimmed.
“Some gravesites have not been attended to for years. That is the family’s responsibility, not that of a maintenance man,” he said. “But in some cases there are no family members left, or they have moved away, and some (families) just don’t do it.”
There was mention of possibly another work bee in the fall to finish up what didn’t get done and cleaning up of the western boundary.
Serving on the current Bentley Cemetery board are Derek Dickau, who has served for about 23 years, Bob Garries, Bill Garries, and Oran Cabelka.