Friday, September 12, 2014

2014 Oak Hill Cemetery Walk, Researching R.P. Roberts

You would have heard about a German horseman whose barn still stands today, a generous family donating land for a church in Schwer,  a young girl whose spirit possessed a child, a philanthropist who left money to improve education of local boys, and an educational and community leader who spent his later years helping children and adults become productive community members.

The second annual Iroquois County Genealogical Society Cemetery Walk took place on Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. There were five volunteers portraying notable people whose final resting place was Oak Hill Cemetery on Cemetery Road in Watseka, Illiniois. The weather could not have been better, a beautiful, sunny day in the Midwest.

Portraying Gebhard Oltmann; Mina Tucker-wife of William; lady possessed by Mary Roff;
Ada Welles, wife of Legrand Welles; and Mae Roberts, wife of R.P. Roberts

This was the first time I had done anything like this. First I had a tough time choosing a person. There were several resources in the ICGS archives that I turned to.
  • Township files - newspaper articles about people, places and activities in the county
  • Obituaries - over 71,000 obituaries of people or relatives who were born, lived or died in Iroquois County
  • Cemetery Inventory booklet - Oak Hill cemetery has been inventoried, as well as all other Iroquois County cemeteries
  • Iroquois County WW I register - list of all veterans, entry and discharge dates
With the centennial of World War I coming up, it was suggested that I could choose the bride of a war veteran. Since I have spent over 35 years in education, I thought about choosing an educator.

It was actually my mother who suggested R.P. Roberts. Robert Paul Roberts, usually called Paul, came from a family of medical doctors. His grandfather, father and two younger brothers were doctors, but Paul chose a career in education. After retiring from the job of Iroquois County Superintendent in 1959, he worked at improving conditions for children and adults with special needs. He served on several committees to improve the school and workshop we now call The Arc and helped to find financing for The Friendship House, a home for adults with special needs. He was honored when the name was changed to The R.P. Roberts Friendship Home.

With a little online research and the ICGS archives, I was able to find all these details of his life and community.

It was a wonderful experience for me, and I believe those who attended had an enjoyable day. Next year we want to improve, so we started brainstorming a list of ideas.
  • publicize the names of those being portrayed
  • invite other "actors"
  • invite visitors through schools, churches, senior centers
  • do more specific publicity - this year we posted it on our Facebook page, on the local cable public service channel, in the local newspaper, on posters in areas of Watseka
Last year our Cemetery Walk was at Body Cemetery, Woodland, Illinois. We portrayed Eliza Meyers Rush, wife of Samuel Rush; Catherine Body Williams; soldier Samuel Wesley Warren; and Serena Body, wife of Isaac Body.

We are already working on ideas for our 2015 Cemetery Walk. Any ideas?