Mike Rogers couldn't remember when his father, Bert, became caretaker of Eden Prairie Cemetery. But he knew how to find out. A nearby tombstone — for Great-Uncle Harry, who preceded Bert — provided the answer: 1992.
Fifteen years later, Mike himself became the president of the nondenominational cemetery. Founded in 1864, it's now marking its 150th anniversary and Rogers, 60, isn't letting the occasion pass. On Saturday, he's turning the nonprofit's fall meeting into an information-gathering session with locals who might have relatives buried in the cemetery. He hopes their stories can fill gaps in its record.
The event will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Huber Funeral Home, 16394 Glory Lane, Eden Prairie. (For more information, call 612-961-7170.)
"As generations dwindle, the family lore gets lost," Rogers said. "As a cemetery, it's our duty to be responsible for that and keep as much information as we can."
Rogers, retired from corporate security at UnitedHealthcare, already has much of the burial information, obituaries, and family trees archived in specialty software, so descendants and genealogists can research it in the future.
He doesn't need the software himself. As he traversed the yard, Rogers referenced family plots by name, rattling off stories — one family, he said jokingly, "couldn't count real well, because they buried five people in four graves" — as well as connections with other longtime Eden Prairie families.
The headstones featuresnames like Anderson, Neil and Staring, which live on today as names of city lakes and neighborhoods. These are some of Eden Prairie's earliest families, Rogers said, dating back to when the city of 63,000 was a handful of roads known as "Washburn Station" after the town's railway stop.
For most of its history, Eden Prairie was a small town. Rogers' great-grandfather, arriving in the 1890s, farmed in the Minnesota River Bottoms and lived for a time in the Smith Douglas More House, where Mike Rogers' grandfather was also born. Until the 1970s, you could look still look in three directions from the five-acre cemetery and see nothing but farms. Even in 1980, the town had just 16,000 people.
Growth has been rapid since then. It has been reflected in the cemetery, which in the past 50 years grew as much as it did in its first century. Today 1,000 people are buried there, with room for 2,000 more.
Rogers expects that the Eden Prairie's population — which, like most American cities, is growing older and greater in number — will keep that trend going.
For now, he is reconstructing the past. Once, while researching the genealogy of one family's plot, he saw an unexpected girl in a photo. Her name was Erma, and Rogers realized it was the same Erma who died in 1898, just 9 years old, and was buried nearby with no records to identify her family. The children of Erma's siblings, who would have been her nieces and nephews, didn't know she existed.
"[They] didn't even know there was an Erma," said Rogers. Through research and with help from Saturday's event, he hopes to save memories like hers. "Anybody that's buried [here]," he said, "was a part of our community, had some basis in fact and an impact on our community."
"They're all important to Eden Prairie's memory — what it was," he said. "Who are we forgetting?"
Graison Hensley Chapman is a Twin Cities freelancer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.