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 16.5-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 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. Recent proceeds from the endowment have been earmarked to restore the E. N. Cooke family mausoleum and to make other repairs 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 periodic tours of the final resting places of noted figures in Salem and Oregon history. The collaboration of such groups as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries, and volunteers of Historic Deepwood Estate 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 everyday citizens. While the data base is maintained by the genealogical division, the Friends field unit recruits community volunteers to engage in monthly work parties, 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. To join the work force on any of the Saturday morning work dates, or to obtain a copy of the Salem Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Handbook, please contact Tibby Larson, Volunteer Coordinator, Parks and Transportation Services Division, 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.