Living in Society

Last Winter as a Township Trustee

Oakland Cemetery, Big Grove Township, Johnson County, Iowa. Dec. 17, 2016
Oakland Cemetery, Big Grove Township, Johnson County, Iowa. Dec. 17, 2016

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP — The Big Grove Township Trustees don’t sell many grave plots.

One of our responsibilities is a pioneer cemetery called Fackler’s Grove where no one has been interred for several generations. Oakland Cemetery, near the City of Solon, was expanded with an additional acreage before I was elected to the board of trustees.

At the current rate of sales, we’ll have space for more than a century.

My four-year term as a Big Grove Township Trustee ends Dec. 31.

Stopping by Oakland Cemetery on Saturday, on the way home from the orchard, I noticed the new section was colorful with artificial flowers. We haven’t posted the new rules asking people to remove grave decorations before winter. The signs are made and hanging in the clerk’s garage until being installed. While decorations shouldn’t be there, they are — evidence of modern lives no trustee seeks to suppress. Maybe the new board will install the signs next year — or not.

The main activity in the older section was squirrels building nests in mature trees. Old limestone monuments stood stark and weathering in the day’s wintry mix. With the Memorial Day remembrance moved to the American Legion field, fewer people visit the cemetery.

Drawn by our school system, a strong religious community with three church congregations and proximity to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Coralville, new settlement continues with young families arriving every year.

A township trustee has a relationship with the living and dead. We hear more from the living and spend time with the dead.

I learned a lot during my tenure.

2012, the year I was elected, was the high water mark of my political work. I was helping Dick Schwab with his campaign for state representative, and when it came time to run for office myself, I knew how to win without being on the ballot. I doubt I’ll ever be as active in politics as I was that year.

In addition to managing the cemeteries, the trustees are responsible to manage a budget, levy taxes, provide fire suppression and emergency services, and resolve lot line disputes. While the township form of government was the earliest in Iowa, consolidation of services may better serve residents. At the same time, the long-standing political organization is slow to change — the same way limestone monuments weather in sun and wind.

In society we experience an impulse to serve a greater good and seeking elected office can be that. It was for me. Every area of responsibility was addressed during my tenure.

We encouraged the Ely Historical Society to begin restoration of Fackler’s Grove Cemetery, we signed a long term contract for Oakland Cemetery maintenance, we formalized creation of an agency to share emergency service responsibilities between three townships and the City of Solon, and there were no scandals.

As I walked among the graves on Saturday I couldn’t help but think of the inevitable end of my own life. There is so much more I want to do. At least I can point to this work and say we did something for the greater good.

As the cold front moves in, that may be the best we can offer.