Shown here is a recent photo of the pristine Dakota Cemetery located North West of Ponoka, which over the past 115 years has been the final resting place for over 200 family members of the Dakota District, which was established in 1901. Also shown is the new gate sign, which along with the ongoing maintenance and wonderful care of the cemetery has been made possible by the ongoing faithful dedication, donations, and efforts of three generations of the Dakota Cemetery Association, district families, and countless volunteers and friends. Photo submitted

Reflections: Dakota Cemetery recognizes support received

Volunteers and donors remembered for what they did for the association

By Judy Miller Jones and Mike Rainone for the News

At the turn of the century a wave of immigrants from South Dakota ventured into the North West Territories west of Ponoka, liked what they saw, and filled on their homesteads.

This would be the beginnings of the prosperous and flourishing district of Dakota, named after the area of the United States from where they had come so many decades ago.

Among the first hardy homesteaders were: E.R. Olmstead, David Wing, Allan Olmstead, Joe Allen, Frank Cissell, Frederick Bressee, Corliss Wing, the Allisons, and their families. As many more families came into the area the Dakota settlement quickly grew, which would create an instant need for a school, a church, and a cemetery. The land for the cemetery was graciously donated by David Wing and E.R. Olmstead, with the schoolhouse soon being erected on the land beside the cemetery on the Olmstead land. A Dakota Cemetery Association was formed in the district on May 9, 1903 to provide and faithfully maintain a community graveyard that would be open to any person regardless of their religious affiliation or their ability to pay. The original plot fee was $2, with the graves being dug by the people of the community, free of charge. A special date, called Decoration Day, named after the earlier tradition in South Dakota, was set aside each May or June for the continuing upkeep of the cemetery. David Wing passed away in 1904, and as per his wishes, he was laid to rest in the centre of the Dakota Cemetery.

The first President of the Dakota Cemetery Association was George Hoar, while Mrs. E. Wold served as the secretary and Mrs. F. Bresee as the Treasurer, with G.W. Winslow, Mrs. N. Cissell, and E.R. Olmstead named as board members. The initial trustees of the Cemetery Association title were Cora Cissell and George Hoar. In those busy early years the people of the community were called upon to do a lot of the undertaking and casket making. Mr. E.R. Olmstead and Cora Cissell did much of the undertaking, Frank and Lee Cissell made many a casket, and Bob Tiltgen with his magnificent black team and democrat transported many a person to their last resting place. Those who were very active in the association for over now more than 115 years have included the dedicated early pioneers who donated the land, served as directors, and were responsible for decades of landscaping and the ongoing upkeep of the cemetery as well as helping to keep the very important records of the burials. Thankfully many of the descendants of those original pioneers still carry on those same countless responsibilities, and are also always joined by many families and friends from in and around the community. For many years Merl Cissell and Doug Bresee made sure that the graves were dug, a task that has now been taken over by their sons Frank Cissell and Darryl Bresee, which is a wonderful sign that the next generations of our Dakota families have proudly stepped up to the plate to carry on the memorable and longstanding traditions of the Dakota Cemetery.

In the 1940s a local area organization, the Half Way Grove Ladies initiated and were joined by the rest of the community in creating two cement gateposts with bronze plaques to honour the men from the Dakota District who had served and fallen in the World Wars. Recently a donation of a fine new metal gate sign was designed, created, and mounted on top of the cement posts by Chad Cissell. In 1967, a young community girls club kindly volunteered to paint the fence around the cemetery, and then with the help of a grant from Alberta Culture for the Restoration of Cemeteries a project was launched to properly restore head stones dating back to 1904 as well as marking the layout of the graves and landscaping the area to ease up the ongoing upkeep and mowing of the grass. Another grant was obtained for an upgrading project was undertaken in 2006, and once again the overwhelming volunteering spirit of the Dakota Cemetery was evident. An amazing fact of the great dedication to the cause is that Dakota community members, family members and friends of those buried in the cemetery have willingly volunteered 832 hours of time and energy, as well as 66 hours of machinery resources to complete the task of making cement runners (monument pads) and replacing tombstones, which has created an always neat and tidy cemetery and makes the care taking a lot easier. This year, with the help of another financial grant more cement pads were purchased and installed, with the funds for these and the signage for the Dakota Cemetery and the Dakota Historical Church on Highway 53 being kindly donated by Mark Miller, MGM Land. A new direction sign has also been placed on Highway 53 west informing travellers to turn north and travel seven kms north to reach the Dakota Community Historical Church, hall, and cemetery, where everyone is always welcome.

Over the years the lawn mowing has been undertaken by many of our local young people in the community. A memorial monument made and donated by Nick Street now stands next to the flag pole in the centre of the Dakota Cemetery, and list the names of the over 200 members of our community who have been laid to rest in a tranquil and peaceful country setting. Current members of the Dakota Cemetery Association currently includes: Trustees Chad Cissell, Scott Bresee, and Mark Miller, as well as Directors Darryl Bresee, Frank Cissell, Judy Miller Jones, Dale Hoar, Bill Turner, and Sandra Lund. Chad Cissell is the current president while Sandra Lund serves as the secretary-treasurer and the keeper of the burial records. With the ongoing efforts and dedication over the years of the volunteers of the association and the community the grounds of the Dakota Cemetery have been kept in pristine condition, and the association wishes to extend a sincere thanks to all who have faithfully donated their time and money each and every year to keep, maintain, and cherish this serene resting place of several generations of our families and loved ones over the past 115 years and going on into the future.

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