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Archive for Sunday, May 24, 1998

OAK HILL CEMETERY IS READY FOR ITS BIGGEST DAY OF THE YEAR.

May 24, 1998

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Having a thousand cars drop by the house for Memorial Day is nothing new for Mitch Young.

As the city's cemetery supervisor, Young is responsible for two of the largest yards in town: Oak Hill and Maple Grove cemeteries. Together they provide more than 80,000 final resting places on 70 acres.

Young treats each lot as his own, because -- in many ways -- they are. He lives in a city-owned house just outside Oak Hill's gates, and his office door is always open.

``I was born and raised in a cemetery,'' said Young, whose father manages Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing. ``Being raised in the industry -- even as a kid, sitting in the truck, watching my father -- I saw and observed all the important aspects of dealing with a traditional funeral, the importance of comforting the family in their time of need.

``It's molded me into the person I am today.''

Today Young and his crew of cemetery workers are plenty busy, tidying up markers, cleaning up trash and mowing the expanses of fescue that will welcome hundreds of people during Monday's traditional day of remembrance for the dead. They've already been preparing for weeks.

Dozens of monuments at Oak Hill, including ones commemorating those who died during Quantrill's Raid and the Spanish-American War, have been powerwashed to restore their original luster. Polished granite markers have been cleared, and even the streets have been swept by public works crews.

All across the rolling hills northeast of 15th Street and Oak Hill Avenue are bunches of flowers, both real and silk. Peonies planted in 1920 continue to bloom today, giving the cemetery the feel of community garden bursting with life among those who already have passed on.

``We want to present it to the best of our abilities,'' said Young, who has been on the job since last year. ``This is our biggest day of the year, but August is our biggest day of the year, too. And December is our biggest day of the year.

``We're on display 365 days a year.''

Oak Hill Cemetery, established in 1865, is permanent home to some of Lawrence's most famous names. Among them: Charles Robinson, Kansas' first governor; John G. Haskell, an architect who designed the Douglas County Courthouse and the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka; Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the state's first female dentist; and John P. Usher, who served as President Lincoln's secretary of the interior.

The history lives on today. For Memorial Day -- once known as ``Decoration Day'' -- crews will decorate the graves of more than 250 veterans with small U.S. flags, and volunteers will place many more. The American Legion will conduct a memorial service for veterans at 11 a.m. Monday.

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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