Smithson Valley High School Senior remembers the departed

by Caroline Turney

Except for a few passing cars and the occasional song bird, Crane’s Mill Cemetery is a quiet place. Even the stems of prairie grass scattered among the plots seem to bow in reverence of what once was. Contrasting sharply with images of a generation known for thrill seeking and endless sensory input, Smithson Valley High School Senior Chris W. Koepp walks along peacefully through patches of shade cast by aged oak trees.

There are no flashing video games, wireless Internet connections, or loud booming stereos here among the cool stone markers and sunburst-yellow chrysanthemums placed in loving memory. While Koepp ponders his surroundings at the cemetery, he is focused on reminders of the past, the state of things today, and what he hopes will be.

Koepp is part of an ongoing service project to maintain and improve the tranquil landmark. Smithson Valley High School members of Koepp’s organization known as Peer Assistance and Leadership students (PALs) worked last school year to make headstones for several graves that were either unmarked or bore small markers. This year, Koepp will single handedly take over the job.

His plan and purpose for Crane’s Mill Cemetery during his senior year is to make 10 headstones each semester for unmarked or poorly marked resting places. “I believe everyone deserves to be remembered, whether in the back of a text book or on a gravestone,” he says while glancing up from the pathway.

To accomplish his goal, Koepp intends to preserve memories and history with a dremel and stones he hopes to see donated by the local community. His tasks will include engraving, sealing, and placing the headstones. “My dad is a mechanic and my uncle is a carpenter, so I have a general knowledge of how to use power tools,” he says. “Last year, I think pool companies donated the stones. If nobody donates stones, I will try to find them myself,” he adds with a look of determination.

In conjunction with the stone work he plans to accomplish, Koepp hopes to create a map of the cemetery for future generations. “What we have now is really hard to figure out,” he says while brushing a bit of debris from the bench where he sits. His efforts toward the map and headstones will be worked into Koepp’s full school day and part time job at T bar M. “My mom told me, ‘Good luck,’” he recalls smiling.

Established around the year 1907, Crane’s Mill Cemetery not only holds memories of those laid to rest, but also bears historical significance for the Startzville area. According to Cranes Mill Cemetery Association Treasurer and Secretary Ken Ellis, several members of the Startz family, for which the town is named, are buried there.

Ellis believes that the work Koepp plans to do is important. “You know there are some people who just didn’t have the money and those are the ones they want to make a stone for,” Ellis said. As residents who are supportive of the cemetery’s relevance to the Startzville community, Ken Ellis and Andrew Tomczyk have seen to the fence being rebuilt, driveway being repaired and chapel being built. They currently volunteer to care for cutting the grass and leveling the plots.

SVHS PALs Sponsor P. C. Ingraham also understands the significance of what Koepp is doing. “To be buried without recognition would be sad and lonely,” she said. “We also want to know if someone knows of someone in the cemetery who does not have a marker.” To help Koepp in his endeavors, Ingraham said what the ongoing service project really needs are pre-cut headstone materials. For information about donating materials, call (830) 885-1064 or email

As the group sponsor, Ingraham views all 90 PALs as the “cream of the crop.” In order to join the nationally recognized mentoring program, students must be drug, alcohol and tobacco free. Participants are chosen after being nominated, writing an essay, and completing an interview. Service projects are part of the program. As far as Koepp accomplishing his project goals, he appears to have the right stuff. Ingraham said, “Chris took on the project because that is the kind of guy he is: good hearted, compassionate, and committed.”

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