For some, the Poulsbo Cemetery upgrades are a labor of love

POULSBO — Many people contributed to the restoration of the Poulsbo Cemetery: city Public Works employees, the Friends of Poulsbo Cemetery Committee led by City Council member Ken Thomas, members of the Poulsbo Lions Club and the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association, and others.

But for one volunteer, the project was a labor of love. More on that later.

Black steel posts rise above river rock stone pillars, holding a 600-pound wrought-iron sign with aluminum letters reading, “Poulsbo Cemetery.”

The classic sign, with the City of Poulsbo logo in the middle, creates a grand entrance to the resting place for more than 1,500.

Located at 20002 Caldart Ave., the five-acre site was purchased by the Town of Poulsbo in 1911. Those interred here include author Elizabeth Montgomery Julesberg, of the “Dick and Jane” children’s books; Anders Bahr, an immigrant Saami reindeer herder famous for his five-year trek moving a herd of reindeer across northern Alaska and the Yukon to the Mackenzie Delta to help the starving Inuvialuit; and residents who succumbed to the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.

Long-time resident Harlan Knudson has more than 20 family members buried there.

The cemetery’s centennial was in 2011 but the improvements were completed this year. Benches, concrete paths and water lines are to be installed.

“It just looks beautiful. The improvements they’ve made are just remarkable,” Mayor Becky Erickson said. “It was disrespectful to have it look so poor. A lot of people had their hands in this project, we’re very grateful for all the thoughtful actions that they’ve done.”

Before the improvements, the gravel parking lot was deteriorating. The original entrance sign was termite-ridden, and the property looked unkept.

“It looked forlorn,” Thomas said. “[The improvements] show respect for the folks that are interred there.”

According to Thomas, the last updates to the Poulsbo Cemetery were in 2001.

“Funds are very limited for the cemetery,” he said. “The funds come only from the sales of the burial plots, so we’ve been very hesitant of going into that fund with no mechanism to replace it. We had to think outside the box to come up with solutions.”

Roughly $4,800 of the cemetery fund has been allocated for the project.

“We thought it was a point in time to go into the fund,” Thomas said. “Through citizen help and donations, public works and the support of the City Council, we hope to use citizen volunteers in the future to spruce up the cemetery and keep it going.”

Thomas said an increase in the purchase price for a plot is likely.

“There’s a long list of improvements,” he said. “By August of next year, we hope to have this initial phase done, and hand it off to next group.”

Civic booster Bill Austin is said to have helped spark the project.

As Austin idly worked in the cemetery Oct. 11, scraping mortar onto river rocks and delicately placing each one onto the pilings of the grand entrance, he declared, “The last stone.”

As the sun dimly cast its light through the swaying trees, Austin reflected on how he became involved in the project.

He spoke of his friend and companion, Susan Soon Hood, buried near the top of the hill. She passed away from stomach cancer in August 2012.

“Soon and I were very close,” Austin said. “It was just heart-wrenching when she died.

“I went up there to build her a gravestone. I saw the place in a state of distress. She deserved a better place to rest than when I saw it … The entry had a broken sign laying over the top, the ground entrance was grown over. It looked like a pauper’s field with weeds.”

He enlisted the help of fabricator and metal artist Mike Cameron, an apprentice of Austin’s nearly 25 years ago, to weld the entrance sign.

Soon was the owner of The Bookstop in downtown Poulsbo and published the “Spirit of Poulsbo” history book in 2009, the definitive history of Poulsbo from its incorporation to present.

Hood worked alongside local researchers and historians Donna Jean Bruce, Judy Driscoll, Arlene Watland Fureby, Hildur Gleason, Megan Holmberg, Ellen Jordal, Roseann Mitchell, Erica Varga, Sherry White and Muriel Williams — they formed the Friends of Poulsbo History Committee.

That’s when Soon met Austin. The duo worked tirelessly with the Friends of Poulsbo History Committee to publish the 400-page book in less than 18 months.

According to committee members, Hood not only approached the Poulsbo Historical Society with the proposal to create the updated account of the city’s history, she contributed as much as $30,000 to cover the printing and design costs.

“Soon was very instrumental in this project,” Driscoll said. “At the time, we had no museum to showcase our artifacts. So we showcased them through the book. Through the publishing of that book, the historical society became more well-known in the community and things started moving and shaking to get a museum in the City Hall.”

At the cemetery, Austin envisions plantings with benches next to a water feature and a kiosk welcoming visitors to the cemetery.

Meanwhile, the City of Poulsbo invites the public to a dedication ceremony of the completion of “phase one” at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 24.