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Cemetery repair underway despite $3k shortfall

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 | Posted by
Cloverdale's Riverside Cemetery will be closed until repairs on the collapsed retaining wall are completed. (Photo: Will Layfield)

Cloverdale’s Riverside Cemetery will be closed to visitors until repairs on the collapsed retaining wall are completed sometime in October. (Photo: Will Layfield)

After more than two years, the final phase of repairs is set to begin this week on the collapsed retaining wall at Cloverdale’s Riverside Cemetery. For safety reasons, the cemetery will be closed to visitors until sometime in October when the work is completed.

Volunteers have framed the graves immediately below the damaged wall with wood donated by Barnes Lumber and Clay Andersen of Andersen Backhoe has covered them with a protective layer of soil.

The total cost of the project, less volunteer labor, is about $27,000. An online GoFundMe site set up to receive donations raised $2,355, but most donors chose to send their money directly to the Cemetery Restoration Fund at the Cloverdale Historical Society. Even with that, the needed funds still fall short by about $3k.

According to volunteer Al Delsid, they decided to start the repairs while the weather is good, believing the shortfall will be made up when people see that work has finally begun.

A number of other headstones, including those of two military veterans, were in danger of being damaged if the wall collapsed further so they were removed and placed in a secure area until the work is done.

One of the relocated headstones is that of Tara Dawn Nelson, a 6-year old girl who died Aug. 23, 1989.

Tara Dawn “Weeder-Bug” Nelson

Her mom, Wendie Young, says she had no inkling anything was wrong with her daughter until she was born. “Her liver and spleen were the size of a 2-year old and she had a 17-inch belly,” she recalls.

Tara was diagnosed with Cytomegalovirus (CMV), a viral infection which can cause birth defects and, in rare cases, death in infants infected before birth.

“The doctors told me she had a five-to-ten percent chance of being a vegetable. They wanted me to put her in an institution, but I wouldn’t do it. Even knowing what I know now, I would do it all over again. At the same time, I wouldn’t want her to go through it again,” says Young.

Young’s mother, Judy Gerdes, nicknamed Tara “Weeder-Bug,” supposedly meaning “small cuddler” in Swedish. “Seriously, I have no idea how she got the name,” laughs Young, “but she was always grandma’s little Weeder-Bug and spent every other weekend at her house.”

Tara is remembered as a little girl whose smile could light up a room, and even though she could not verbalize her delight or displeasure, she left no doubt about what she was feeling. She loved listening to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and would kick her legs with delight whenever it came on the radio. She instinctively knew the way to grandma’s house and when they would try to trick her by taking a different route, she would become agitated until they were back on the “right” road.

One night, Tara went to sleep and never woke up. Her mom found her the next morning.

Not wanting her grave to be unmarked, even for a little while, Tara’s mom wrote her name in chalk on a nearby cinder block.

For the past 25 years, in addition to raising her other children, Young has been a caregiver. “I think taking care of Tara was the lead in to this kind of work. In her short little life, she taught me more than all the books I can read. She had a way of getting to people.

“After she died, I tried to write a letter to her, but it ended up being a thank you for the lessons she taught me,” she says.

When Young found out Tara’s headstone had been temporarily moved, she went to visit her grave. It didn’t feel right with no headstone to mark the spot, so she wrote Tara’s name in chalk on a nearby cinder block.

Persons wanting to contribute to the Cemetery Wall construction project can either make their tax-deductible donation online at GoFundMe.com or by sending a check to the Cloverdale Historical Society, 215 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale CA 95425. Be sure to indicate “Cemetery Restoration Fund” on the memo line.

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Mary Jo Winter is our Cloverdale correspondent.
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