MONTE VISTA— About 20 students from Adams State University helped with a mapping project at the Monte Vista Cemetery on Saturday, Sept. 22. “Cemetery maps are important in terms of selling the lots and preparing for burials and to have an accurate sense of what and who are there,” said Monte Vista Cemetery Association board member Laurie Ellithorpe.
The cemetery has been in operation since 1898 and has more than 7,000 people buried there.
Though there is an existing map showing details about individual lots— such as ownership, names of buried people and purchase availability if it’s unowned— it had become out of date over the years. “We wanted to double check our map and cross-reference everything with our database and register books,” Ellithorpe said.
The students arrived early in the morning, and each was given a block map of several hundred graves to cross-reference with data from the cemetery map. There were several instances in which headstones found by students were not listed on the map. “Perhaps the headstones were newer and hadn’t yet been added to the map,” Ellithorpe said, “or perhaps they were somehow missed.” In some instances, the lot had been sold but not used yet by the purchasing family, “and they cross-referenced those as well.”
The mapping project was part the ASU Cares program, which for nearly 20 years has matched up students with an array of local civic engagement and community projects during the month of September. “The program basically puts out the call to people in the community who might need help with different things,” Ellithorpe said.
ASU Cares students contributed more than 1,000 community-service hours in a single day in 2017, including trail work in Penitente Canyon, cutting firewood in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for residents in need and river cleanup along the Rio Grande. “The mapping was a lot different from other projects they’ve done,” Ellithorpe said. “It didn’t involve cleanup or physical labor but more math and orientation skills.”
Ellithorpe said the program director told her that more students signed up for the mapping project than anything else this year. She had submitted the project to the ASU Cares program after seeing the group’s callout earlier in the year in the Valley Courier. After filling out a request form on the group’s website, she was contacted by the program director to let her know the group wanted to help. “I was hoping I might get five kids out there and was thrilled when I was told there were so many more students interested.”
The students worked at the cemetery from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. “It was a long and arduous day but the kids were enthusiastic and curious,” Ellithorpe said. “They came back with questions about some of the things they had seen, like, ‘Why did this whole family die in 1920?’”
Thanks to the students, about 75 percent of the mapping project is complete. The information will soon be added to the current map and data books. “We are also working on getting the data published on the Rio Grande County website, which will help families visiting a gravesite on the weekends when the cemetery office is closed.” Ellithorpe said. “So, you’ll be able to find the headstone without physically having to go into the office.”
The next big project at the cemetery is the semi-annual trash pickup scheduled for Oct. 6. “We’ll pick up old flowers and things that have been left at the cemetery, things that the wind has blown and are a hazard for the lawnmowers,” Ellithorpe said. “But we don’t disturb anything that’s tied down to a headstone.”