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Tending the small Farmer Cemetery is a family commitment

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Jim Danielson builds a fence around one side of the pioneer cemetery at Farmer, east of Waterville on May 25. He has a wheat ranch less than a mile away. Danielson promised his father, John, that he would continue to care for the small cemetery on a hill surrounded by wheat fields.

FARMER  — Driving through the expanse of green wheat fields, on a small knoll in the distance, granite and marble tombstones emerge — seemingly from out of nowhere — barely seen from a mile away. It’s the Farmer Cemetery where homestead families are buried on a quarter acre plot of brown, cracked soil.

Also known as the Happy Home Cemetery, the spot is 14 miles out of Waterville, one mile north of the old Farmer grange hall along Highway 172. A metal gate, chained shut, stands alone at the entrance.

Jim Danielson may be the only person you might regularly see in this spot. He is a fourth-generation farmer who owns acreage where he grows wheat about a mile away.

Some years ago before his father John’s passing in 2011, Danielson made a promise to him that he would carry on John’s devotion to the care of the cemetery.

Danielson says there isn’t much to do other than spray and pull weeds. Walking through the property, dust kicking up under his boots, he warns to be careful not to step in a hole. Badgers like to dig in the area he said.

He hopes vandals won’t bother the plots and with the help of his fiancee’ Jenna Dixon, they put in a section of wire fencing last month to keep tumbleweeds and people’s cars out.

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Jenna Dixon, Waterville Cemetery commissioner and fiancee' to Jim Danielson, hauls fencing at the Farmer Cemetery. The infant grave at right is for relatives of Danielson — Fred and Pauline Oberstadt. Even though this is the only connection to Danielson in the cemetery, he has devoted his time to care for the entire cemetery.

Dixon is the wife of the late Jim Dixon. They restored the historical Nifty Theater in Waterville. She is also on the Waterville Cemetery Board.

There are just over 100 people buried here, and about 60 tombstones visible with family names like Brownfield, Carey, Jacobsen, Johnson, Ludeman, Mitchell, Schacht, Walmer and Whitehalls.

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Jenna Dixon and Jim Danielson erect fencing around a section of the small Farmer Cemetery on May 25, 2022, to keep tumbleweeds from blowing in and to keep vehicles out, Danielson says. He is a fourth-generation farmer who has a field less than a mile away.

Danielson’s only tie to anyone laid to rest there is a distant one. On the far northwest corner of the property a small, white stone stands, plastic flowers to one side. The inscription on the memorial facing east honors Fred Oberstadt — just over one month old — who died in 1899. Facing west, the honor is for Pauline Oberstadt who died after one week of life in 1903.

“Families had lots of babies and children who didn’t survive,” Danielson said.

The Oberstadts' parents immigrated from Germany, arriving in nearby Douglas in 1884 where they were married. John Danielson Sr., married Oberstadt’s daughter Marie. They had a son, John Danielson Jr., who was Jim Danielson’s father.

Danielson thinks the last burial at the cemetery was in the 1970s.

He says he’s content with his responsibility of caring for the cemetery especially now that he will be the husband of a cemetery board member who also sees the value in protecting and maintaining homesteader cemeteries in Douglas County.

The wind blows steadily on this day in May as Dixon and Danielson finish erecting the fence along the west side of the cemetery. They load up his farm truck with the tools used to erect the fence — the post hole digger, shovel, and roll of baling wire. They wave goodbye as he turns off the gravel road and onto the state highway, past the locked, ornamental gate and weathered wooden sign — “Farmer Cemetery.”

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 Jim Danielson and Jenna Dixon leave the Farmer Cemetery after a morning in late May spraying weeds and putting up a fence on one side.

Don Seabrook: (509)661-5225

Photo Editor

I was born in Wenatchee, went to Eastmont High School, graduated from the University of Washington with a communications degree in journalism. I have a wife and three children.

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