BROOKINGS – In late July, William “Will” Egeberg of rural Volga, a Boy Scout in Troop 56, faced an overgrown plot of ground in Volga Township.
With the exception of three headstones, there was little evidence that as many as 20 people, many of them infants and children, were buried here.
He decided that to earn Scouting’s pinnacle of honor – Eagle Scout – he would restore Kirby “Pioneer” Cemetery as a fitting final resting place for those interred there.
Egeberg, 16 and a junior at Sioux Valley High School, has been in Scouting for about 10 years, having started out as a Cub Scout.
“I joined the Scouts because it looked like fun,” Egeberg said. “It’s been a lot of fun throughout the years.”
And after he earned Life Scout, a rank just below Eagle, he looked at Eagle and thought, “Why not?”
While earning Eagle is hard, hands-on work for the Scout who aspires to it, the project must demonstrate his leadership skills in bringing it to completion.
“I got a lot of my friends together to help me work on it,” Egeberg said. Included were four members of his junior class. Additionally, family members – including his parents, Philip and Ellen Egeberg, his brother, Bill Boyer, and his paternal uncle, Aaron Egeberg – pitched in with the heavy lifting.
And key to the project was the sponsorship of Brookings Master Gardeners Mary DeLeeuw and Liz Gorham.
As the work progressed, Egeberg would be assisted by a team of about 10 people – and “Flash” the beagle, “who joined the team for working parties.”
Divining and probing
Philip Egeberg was familiar with the location of the cemetery and suggested that his son revive it as an Eagle Scout project.
“We found a map; I think it was from the library,” Will said of the beginning of the project. “It showed old drawings of where the people might be.”
The next step was to pinpoint more closely the location of the individual graves. To do that, Philip used what he called a “divining rod” in a process called “divining.” The principle is the same as using a “witching rod” or “dowsing rod” to find water.
“We used copper wiring and that worked,” Will explained, smiling. “I don’t know how it works, but it works.”
Next came the skills of DeLeeuw and Gorham.
“They taught me how to probe for the graves,” Will said. Once the approximate locations of the graves were indicated with the divining rod, inserting a probe into the usually softer ground in the identified area would further indicate the presence of human remains.
Preparation of the site also included cutting down very tall grass and lilacs growing wild.
“Then we put pavers in the ground where we think people are buried,” Will explained. “But we didn’t write any names down because we can’t be sure.”
While Egeberg was able to obtain the names of many of the people buried in the Kirby Cemetery, he and those who helped were not able to match specific graves to the people buried.
A sign has been erected to identify the cemetery. And a large wooden cross is also being built; it will be placed to further identify the site.
Finally, Egeberg has compiled a written record of all the work that went into the project, and he has a plan for the future of the cemetery.
“The cemetery is all set to be maintained,” he explained. “It will be easy to mow and weed-whack. My dad and my uncle plan to do that until they die.”
Will has also compiled a history of and fact sheet for the cemetery. While it is unnamed, it’s being called the “Kirby Cemetery” because the last burial there was of Sorine Kirby in 1925. The cemetery is located in the southeast corner of the SE 1/4 of Section 24 in Volga Township.
In 1893, Edward Sprenson deeded these three acres to Edward, Soren, and Peter Sorenson, Katherine Bertelson, Mattie Jensen, Sorine Kirby, Anna Brabeck and Mary Jensen, to be used for a cemetery ‘now and forever.’”
Egeberg has identified, at least by surname, 20 people buried in the cemetery. However, he cautioned that that there may have been other burials at the site. “Please let me know if there are more burials there than our records show. Or if it’s known that some of these bodies have been moved to other cemeteries.”
Egeberg’s leadership and hard work will be recognized at the Kirby “Pioneer” Cemetery Rededication Ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday. The cemetery is on the north side of the road at the T-intersection of 212th Street and 466th Avenue.
The public is invited to attend.
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]