Hidden from view on a dirt-packed stretch of Kanza Rd., the cemetery had its last burial in 1933. Few outside of Catlin Township know of Dunkard Cemetery, the last remnant of a small congregation rooted in Old German Baptist traditions.
Yet sisters Sandy Robison of Lawrence and Juanita Rees of Emporia not only know of it, but also hold it dear.
Their parents, Wes and Olive (Guggisberg) Rowland, moved from Burns in 1946, but family roots ran deep around Burns and Peabody, so much so that the family comes back on Memorial Day to decorate the graves of ancestors in six area cemeteries, including Dunkard. The sisters carry on the tradition annually.
“I don’t know what year it was, but we were in the ’51 Ford, and when we got out there it was raining, and we wound up eating our picnic lunch in the car while it rained,” Rees said. “I’m not sure how we got out of there. There evidently was more gravel on the road then than there is today. It looks like it hasn’t seen any gravel in a hundred years.”
Guessing what the weather would be was an integral part of trip planning, Robison said.
“When we were trying to figure out what day we were going to come, we asked, ‘Is it going to rain or not going to rain?” Robison said. “We tried to work it out so we could get to the Dunkard Cemetery if we possibly could.”
Getting there in the rain Saturday wasn’t possible. After stops at Ebenezer Methodist, Pleasant Center, and Doyle Valley cemeteries, they found the final stretch of Kanza Rd. to Dunkard Cemetery impassable.
However, they could get to the farm home of Evan Yoder of Peabody. Yoder knows Dunkard Cemetery, too; he has relatives buried there, and it’s one of three he mows.
He met Robison several years ago, and they walked the cemetery together, sharing what they knew about their relatives and the church that once stood there.
“I always wondered who was leaving flowers there, because there were always flowers on about three graves,” Yoder said.
He knew of the sisters’ annual trek, and said he wondered Saturday what they would do. He wasn’t home when the sisters stopped by Saturday, but he found flowers and a note waiting for him when he returned.
“I’ll be glad to take them out there, when I can get out there,” he said.
The sisters, accompanied this year by Rees’s daughter, Gwen Spade, and her children Rees, 8, and Cooper, 5, next went to Prairie Lawn and Marion cemeteries to round out the Marion County portion of their trip. They made a stop in Admire before returning to Emporia.
The trips often bring surprises and raise questions, like one they encountered Saturday at Doyle Valley while decorating Manahan family graves.
“Some of the graves we put flowers on already had flowers on them,” Robison said. “They were planted marigolds and fresh flowers from the garden, so we feel like it has to be somebody who lives in this area. It’s the branch of the family we knew very little about when we started this. We’re hoping we’ll make a connection.”
The trip also introduced Rees and Cooper to family history. Robison has a scrapbook of pictures and memorabilia of family ancestors which they looked at between stops, and the boys took turns decorating graves.
“I came along on this trip because I wanted to see all the headstones of my ancestors,” Rees said. “It was fun, and I liked the whole trip.”