On a crisp, fall day in November a couple of county workers dug post holes; there’s not much in the huge field to indicate that it is the county cemetery, unless you’re looking for it.
But on Tuesday, November 20th, there will be more than 100 additional remains here. Finally in their final resting place.
“Something happens, unfortunately,” says Mikel Stevenson, director at Anderson Stevenson & Wilke Funeral Home. “We’ve found unclaimed cremains in storage units that have been abandoned and things of that nature, sometimes it’s just someone fell too ill to accomplish a scattering per the person’s request and there other times where within fractured families the connection wasn’t there.”
At one point, there were 153 cremains at various funeral homes around Helena or abandoned at the county coroner’s office.
“You know, to sit on a shelf, some of them since the (19)30’s, is very sad,” says Lewis & Clark County Commissioner Susan Good Geise. “These were human beings at one point.”
The ceremony and this final resting place is the culmination of several years of work. For those involved, it’s something that didn’t come with a road map.
“This is uncharted territory for us,” says Commissioner Goode Geise. “But we’re doing the best we can to make sure these individuals have a respectful place.”
Stevenson adds, ”It’s been a couple of years of discussion, or close to a couple years to find the best avenue, along with giving ourselves, the funeral homes and coroner’s office enough time to find out as much information as we can about these people and go from there.”
Some of the cremains were identified and a few made it back to their loved ones. Others were found to be veterans and they were interred at Fort Harrison.
Those who remained, said Good Geise, were not going to be left on the shelf: “I know that it is important to many that people be honored even after they have passed.”
“Our entire goal with it is to make sure that these people that may have been left behind or forgotten that they do have a dignified proper burial,” says Stevenson.
Nor will they be left unmarked. Those post holes were being dug for a sign to honor these forgotten. It has now been placed in the earth – a gift built by students at Augusta High School.
“It’s a picture of the Sleeping Giant, it says ‘Rest in Peace’ and Lewis and Clark County, so that these people know there is a respectful marker there for them,” says Good Geise.
The Remember The Forgotten ceremony will be held on Tuesday, November 20th at 10:30 a.m. at the Lewis & Clark County Cemetery on McHugh Road.
Representatives of several denominations will be on hand for the ceremony. The public is encouraged to attend.
- Reported by Melissa Jensen