Headstones bearing the Wallace family name stretch out in a long line at the Evergreen Cemetery outside Benton City. They mark the final resting place of Steve Wallace’s parents, grandparents and other relatives.
Wallace, 67, hopes to continue the line but the 2.5-acre cemetery at 7 W. Corral Creek Road will likely be out of room within the next 18 months.
“It’s not just my family. Some of the original settlers of the area – everyone – went there. And this cemetery has been going on for 111 years now, and it’s running out of space. It just happened to fall on my watch,” Wallace said.
Wallace is president of the Kiona-Benton Cemetery Association, which manages the Benton County cemetery that opened in 1912, before World War I. He’s been president for about three years, but he grew up around the cemetery. He raked leaves there as a boy and helped dig graves while home on leave from the Air Force.
The cemetery is home to men who served during the first World War and many citizens born in the late 1800s, such as Erva Grace Kelso, a 2-month-old who died in 1898.
Wallace’s grandfather, James Orville Wallace, born in 1888, is buried there near his wife, Edith, who was born in 1894. Wallace has already bought plots there for himself and his wife.
Wallace wants to ensure the cemetery’s legacy is preserved for generations to come.
Bill and Gloria Wolfe do, too. They donated money to buy the 2 acres adjacent to the cemetery for the expansion, but the cemetery association can’t afford to install irrigation or a parking lot.
“We really want to see these 2 acres get developed so we can start utilizing it before we go out of business. I mean, to me, it’s critical. This is important to me,” Wallace said.
The process to buy the land has been challenging, Wallace said, as the sale is contingent on Benton County approval.
The cemetery association has to secure a conditional use permit for the expansion and complete an environmental review with the state Department of Ecology. Wallace and his wife, Virginia, say they’ve had numerous meetings and dealt with a lot of paperwork and government agencies, including the health department, irrigation district, clean air authority and road department.
“We have been running around like bandits and trying to figure out how to process this. And we do all this volunteer,” Virginia said.
Five board members and three officers serve on the cemetery association. The group pays three people to keep it running: a secretary/treasurer, a groundskeeper and a sexton who digs the graves and installs the headstones.
“And now we need some of the rest of the community to step up and help us purchase things like irrigation and grass and put a little parking area,” Wallace said. He also needs volunteers to help do the work.
Wallace said the association also would like to add more benches and niches, which can hold cremated remains. “It saves a lot if you expand vertically instead of horizontally,” he said.
But those are luxuries, Wallace pointed out. “Right now, we have got to get the irrigation and the grass in and a little parking area. That’s critically important. If we can’t, then how are we going to preserve a legacy? It’s been here for over a hundred years,” he said.
Wallace said the group needs $20,000 to $25,000 to complete the project. If more is raised, the money will go toward buying niches, trees or benches. Since the association is a nonprofit, any donation is tax deductible.
“Any donation is better than no donation,” he said.
On average, the cemetery sees 15 burials a year. It costs $4,400 for a traditional burial space and Evergreen Cemetery is known for being cheapest in the area, Wallace said.
“When this started getting out that we were running out of space, we had an onslaught of people buying lots. They didn’t have anybody who died in the family, but they wanted to be buried there so a lot of them got bought real fast over the summer,” he said.
To make a donation, make checks payable to Kiona-Benton Cemetery Association and mail to: Kiona-Benton Cemetery Association, P.O. Box 117, Benton City, Washington, 99320.
A GoFundMe page also has been set up to accept donations: gofundme.com/f/development-of-the-new-area-of-evergreen-cemetery.
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