Sprague seniors join storm cleanup effort at Pioneer Cemetery

Sprague High School students Ellie Horn, left, and Liam Sharp clean up ice storm debris at Pioneer Cemetery on April 10, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Thirteen Sprague High School seniors fanned out over Salem Pioneer Cemetery Saturday morning to clear away much of the debris deposited there by the February ice storm.

They raked the branches and twigs onto blue tarps that they hauled to various pickup points around the 17-acre site.

“With the removal, now we can begin mowing because you can see how tall the grass is getting,” said Pat Norman, one of eight Friends of Pioneer Cemetery who joined the students during the cleanup.

Because the cemetery at South Hoyt and Commercial streets has been closed for safety reasons since the storm, members of the Friends have had to limit their sprucing up to outside the perimeter fence.

The goal now is to have the rest of the debris and downed trees out of the cemetery in time to open it to the public by Memorial Day and perhaps even before then.

Sprague math teacher Melinda Kleinman aided with the cleanup.

She explained, “Those volunteering are in the council leadership program at the school.”

They also helped residents in Detroit following the fire, and they assisted with work that needed to be done at Minto-Brown Island Park, Kleinman said.

Ellie Horn, 17, wanted to help at the cemetery to “do something good for the community,” so she came on Saturday.

Mason Asten, 17, said he has done a lot of work around the area and wanted to help out the Friends, while Ivan Zhong, 17, said as the raking progressed it was good to see “everything clean and to see the smiles on the volunteers’ faces.”

Jeffry Huang, 18, said “I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to volunteer at different spots so I wanted to help here.”

Sprague High School students Mei Tate, left, and Hallie Trueax clean up ice storm debris at Pioneer Cemetery on April 10, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

The city of Salem owns the cemetery and has contracted to have the larger pieces of debris and downed trees removed from the property. Mountain View Tree Service of Salem has been at the cemetery at various times over a three-week period doing just that.

Much of the debris was located where burials date from 1860 to the present.

During the closure, the cemetery opened for a funeral and on April 3 so a small group could celebrate Qingming, a Chinese festival to remember ancestors, said Elisabeth Walton Potter, historian for the cemetery and spokesperson for the Friends.

The Chinese ceremony included remarks and traditional offerings at the “ritual table remnant on plot 660,” she said. The gate was locked when the ceremony was over.

The cemetery, which contains about 8,200 graves, was founded in 1854.

Donations to help with current and ongoing repair projects can be sent to the Pioneer Cemetery Endowment Fund of the Salem Foundation Charitable Trust at Pioneer Trust Bank, P.O. Box 2305, Salem, OR 97308.

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