Friends of Pioneer Cemetery was organized in 1985 to promote maintenance and restoration efforts within Salem’s historic Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery, founded in 1854. Since 1986, when Chemeketa Lodge No. 1 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows officially deeded the 17-acre cemetery to the City of Salem, the Friends have operated as a supporting organization in cooperation with the Parks agency. A contract for the cemetery maintenance and restoration master plan and a plot-owner’s guide to gravesite maintenance was completed under auspices of the public-private partnership in 2004.
In 1999, the Friends established an endowed fund within The Salem Foundation Charitable Trust. Each year, a distribution from the fund is made to the City for cemetery betterment above and beyond the basic maintenance that is supported from limited public funds. Proceeds from the endowment have helped restore the E.N. Cooke and Tilmon Ford family mausoleums, financed professional headstone repairs, and contributed to varied improvements in the common interest.
Tax-deductible contributions to the Salem Pioneer Cemetery Endowed Fund are gratefully received in care of Pioneer Trust Bank, N.A., Trustee, PO Box 2305, Salem OR 97308.
Friends of Pioneer Cemetery also works to promote awareness of the cemetery as a resource for community history by staging periodic educational programs for the public. The group has participated in ceremonies to dedicate restored grave markers. It has hosted a regional monument repair workshop. It sponsors occasional tours of the final resting places of noted figures in Salem and Oregon history. The collaboration of such groups as American Legion Post 136; Sons of Confederate Veterans, Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries, staff and volunteers of Historic Deepwood Estate, Oregon Black Pioneers, Northwest Rose Historians, Portland; The Heritage Roses Group, California; and Chemeketa Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution has been essential to the success of these undertakings.
Each headstone is important as a means of locating a final resting place and providing vital information about Salem’s pioneer generation, civic and business leaders, and ordinary citizens. While the data base is maintained by the genealogical division, the Friends field unit recruits community volunteers to engage in monthly grounds-work parties from March through October. The volunteers prune heritage roses and other ornamental shrubs and pull ivy and other invasive plants. Under trained supervision, they remove moss from markers and pavements, level monument bases and safely reset fallen markers in mortar. The City depends upon the Friends volunteers to monitor leaning, fallen, or damaged grave stones.
Volunteering at Pioneer Cemetery is a great way to learn community history and spend some productive hours in pleasant company out of doors. Please use the link to 'Events' to see the annual work schedule and instructions for volunteering. To join the work force on any of the morning work dates, or to obtain a copy of the Salem Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Handbook, please contact Tibby Larson, Volunteer Coordinator, Parks Operations, Salem Department of Public Works, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-589-2197. Volunteers are welcomed the year around to collect litter and debris and assist the genealogists in conducting research.