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Hillyard VFW volunteers acquire cemetery

Paul Manly is the new caretaker of the Evergreen Cemetery in Hillyard. The VFW Post 1474 has acquired the deed to the abandoned cemetery. (Colin Mulvany)
Paul Manly is the new caretaker of the Evergreen Cemetery in Hillyard. The VFW Post 1474 has acquired the deed to the abandoned cemetery. (Colin Mulvany)

Caretakers hope for new stones at Evergreen

The hilly lot covered with big pines is not a quiet place. It’s just south of an interchange of the North Spokane Corridor, and it sits beneath buzzing power lines.

Still, it is a place of final rest for area residents, including Civil War veterans.

For the past 20 years, members of Hillyard VFW 1474 have been the main caretakers of Evergreen Cemetery, which is on the west side of Market Street just south of Mead. Now, they are the cemetery’s owners.

Recently, the deed for the almost-14-acre site was handed over to the Hillyard Evergreen Cemetery Association – a group formed mainly by VFW 1474 members.

Paul Manly is the newly appointed director and caretaker.

“This means a lot of things to us,” said Manly, standing at the cemetery on a blustery day last week. “Among other things it means we can finally get the Civil War headstones replaced.”

Manly said there are 12 marked Civil War soldiers’ graves at Hillyard Evergreen Cemetery and many more Civil War graves with missing headstones. While VFW 1474 was merely the caretaker of the place, no new headstones could be issued.

“Veterans Affairs said they couldn’t send us headstones for a cemetery we didn’t own,” said Manly. “I guess that makes some sense, but it was very frustrating. Now the new headstones are on their way.”

Manly said the cemetery was owned by Vada Hoblin, who moved away many years ago and has since died.

“We got the deed in a default judgment,” Manly said. “We kept taking them to court and last time we went no one else showed up, so we got the cemetery.”

About 400 graves are spread out over the hillside north of Hillyard, and the earliest ones date to 1909, when the cemetery was opened by the Hillyard Masonic Lodge.

From the mid-1960s up until Hillyard VFW 1474 began its major cleanup involvement, the cemetery was neglected. Overgrown with weeds and trees, the place was a dumping ground for trash and old tires. The cemetery was also hit by vandals who made off with fencing and headstones and desecrated some of the graves. And as if the neglect wasn’t bad enough, the cemetery was briefly put up for sale as prime industrial real estate in the 1980s. No one bought it.

“It was a terrible mess when we began cleaning it up,” said Lea Kokstis, board member of the Hillyard Evergreen Cemetery Association. “There was so much trash here. We filled up one of the biggest Dumpsters they have and it wasn’t big enough.” Kokstis said volunteers carefully dug for grave markers using hand tools.

“We were down there on all fours digging and scratching,” she said, pointing toward some of the old grave markers.

Over the years, Boy Scout troops helped clean up the place and many individuals have been involved and groups formed to take care of the cemetery, but volunteer efforts fizzled.

Today, a few roads run up and around the graves, and grass and weeds are kept under control.

Manly hopes the formation of the cemetery association will put an end to all the turmoil and provide much more consistent maintenance.

“We need all the help we can get to pull this off,” said Manly, who doesn’t have any relatives at the cemetery. He said he got involved because of the veterans’ graves.

The next big task is to find and mark all the graves. Some of that work has already been done by past volunteers.

“If someone believes they have family buried up here, we’d love to hear from them,” said Manly, who has planted some irises among the graves. Volunteers have also put up little flags and silk flowers on previous Memorial Days. And vandalism now seems to be committed mostly by moose who trample through the place.

“They get in here and rub their big rumps on the tall headstones and they get knocked over,” said Manly, standing next to a huge overturned stone.

He hopes the cemetery will be able to accept new graves as soon as the old ones are plotted.

The new cemetery owners are looking for volunteers to help with brush clearing, plotting and general cleanup.

“The people here died in the 1910s and the 1920s, and they found a resting place in Hillyard,” Manly said. “We are just thrilled that we’re finally able to really take care of it.”