A Monumental Family Project

Descendants Gather Funds to Mark Graves

The great-grandchildren of Harm and Elena Ottersberg can’t fill in all the historical gaps, but they are providing touchstones for future generations. (Lincoln Journal Star, Larry Peirce, February 6, 2000)

Journey with me from May 1999-May 27, 2000 as you read several articles and Scripture references pertaining to the year long, nationwide Ottersberg Monuments Project.  Be sure to note the dates for better understanding the path taken by a family’s desire to remember, honor, and respect their ancestors.  Goal:  purchase headstones for seven unmarked Ottersberg graves, four infants and three adults.

Celebrate with me now as this Monumental Family Project  is overviewed on its 12th anniversary.

“And looking upon them Jesus said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26
 

The Lord gave me the following Scripture reference in August of 1999 when I was in Wake Forest, North Carolina, waiting for our fifth grandchild to be born.  This one Bible verse was my prayer throughout the entire Ottersberg Monuments Project, and each of the other seven committee members was asked to participate with me in doing likewise.  These words would sustain me in the days throughout the project.

“And let the favor and beauty of the LORD our God be upon us;  And do confirm and establish for us the work of our hands;  Yes, confirm and establish the work of our hands.”  Psalm 90:17
 

On October 5, 1999, Proverbs 4:11-12 would be the encouragement and validation I would need to pursue heading the Ottersberg Monuments Project.  On this day the initial information letter was mailed nationwide to 100 Ottersberg family members concerning the Zion Lutheran Cemetery Ottersberg Monuments Project.

I will guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.  When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.”  Proverbs 4:11-12
 

The Ottersberg Monuments Project Invitationmailed mid May 2000

You are especially invited to attend the OTTERSBERG Monuments Dedication on Saturday, May 27, 2000 at 2 p.m., a special event to show respect and honor for our ancestors.  Ceremony will be held at the Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery, rural Pickrell, Nebraska.

Beatrice Daily Sun article written by staff writer, Joy Brown, published on Saturday, May 27, 2000.  (I have inserted photos for further clarification even though they were not originally in the newspaper article).  All credit given to Ms Brown for the write-up.

New Headstones Honor Family’s Heritage

Voices of a distant time
Speak softly thru the years
Carried on winds of ages past
Whispering gently in our ears.
 
Seeking to be remembered
Rather than forgotten as though never here,
Reaching out to their children’s children…
“Do they listen?  Will they hear?”
 

PICKRELL—So begins the poem, “The Legacy” by Rebecca Watson Walker.  Although many may not hear or just choose to not listen, one local family has heard and responded.

For 101 years seven graves have laid in wait, unmarked but not unnoticed.  The wait will soon be over.

It has taken a year of planning but Saturday, May 27, at 2 p.m. descendants of Harm and Elena Ottersberg will gather at Zion Lutheran Cemetery, rural Pickrell, to dedicate four newly laid headstones in honor of their ancestors.

Cheryl Meints, great-granddaughter of the Ottersbergs, headed a committee of eight family members to oversee the process of obtaining the headstones.  Although Meints has known about the graves since childhood, it has only been in the last 10 years that her interest has grown into action.  The desire to finally have her ancestors’ graves marked led Meints to form the committee.

This is not the first time someone has tried to place headstones on the unmarked graves.  “Some family members have tried in the past,” Meints said.  “I don’t know what it was (that prevented them from succeeding).”

She went on to say that the reasons for failure in the past do not really matter.  All that matters is that the graves will indeed be marked now for future generations.

More than 100 letters were sent to family members around the country in October 1999 informing them of the quest to place markers on the graves.  A fund was established that same month at the First National Bank of Beatrice so interested family members could contribute to the effort.

The committee decided to take the next step once 75 percent of the needed funds had been collected.  In just six weeks they were able to order the headstones.  The prompt response reaffirmed the family’s certainty that they were doing the right thing.

“I believe this whole project is God ordained,” Meints said.  According to Meints, one Bible passage in particular confirms her belief that this is the time for the wait to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11 states, “There is a point of time for everything and there’s a time for every event under heaven…He has made everything appropriate in its time.”

“I was driving down the street…and it’s just like a lighting bolt hit me,” she said.  “I thought I was going to drive off the road.  God waited 101 years for this to come to pass.  For this was the appointed time, and he chose me and seven other people to do this,” she said.

The process of obtaining headstones has not been taken lightly by committee members.  According to Meints, they have considered being able to do this for their ancestors not only a privilege but a great responsibility as well.

“This family historical endeavor has been a labor of love.  It has been a tool of reconciliation.  It has been an act of selflessness.  And it is and will continue to be an example of respect and honor for others, particularly for our ancestors,” she said.

On May 3, the committee’s vision became reality when Keith Stewart and Jim Anderson, Speidell Monuments, Beatrice, laid the four new headstones in the earth.

Meints was able to be there while the headstones were being laid.  Speechless is the only way she can describe the way she felt that day.

“I’m watching him dig these holes knowing that my ancestors are buried here and knowing that not only have people in the past been affected by this little plot of ground, but those now and in the future will be also,” she said.

Through the act of placing these headstones, the family hopes to convey their appreciation to their ancestors for choosing to settle in America.  A challenge is also extended to future generations to continue this sense of gratitude.

“It’s something that’s been in the hearts and minds of many people,” Meints said.  “It’s become a reality now.”

Even though today’s dedication is bound to stir up a lot of emotion, the family does not want the experience to be one of complete sadness.

Meints recalls one committee member saying, “We should have called it a celebration instead of a dedication.  It’s a time of beginning for the family.” (end of article)

Beatrice Daily Sun editorial, Saturday, June 24, 2000—Voice of the People

Cemetery Project Much Appreciated

Editor:

We have experienced a very special event at our cemetery this past month thanks to the descendants of Harm A. and Elena J. Ottersberg and families for four new monuments.

It is especially gratifying in this day and age when the younger generations show their respect for their ancestors by initiating a project like this.  Not only did they follow through with this endeavor and were successful in honoring seven of their ancestors with four new headstones which cover a span of 102 years, they also contributed funds to the cemetery perpetual fund which will ensure maintenance and care for these graves in the future.  This entire family has given an example of their dedication to honor and preserve the memory of their ancestors and certainly are commended for it.  We sincerely thank them.

Zion Lutheran Cemetery Association, Pickrell

Walter Meints, sexton

Personal response to Walter Meints, June 29, 2000

Dear Walter and Katie,

What a pleasant surprise and blessing to read the letter in the Beatrice Daily Sun about the Project.

It’s been quite a year, as you well know.  But we have had no regrets about anything.  May God continue to bless the generations to come because of this past year.  May the Project be an example to our children and grandchildren of His faithfulness to an obedient servant.

Thank you both.

Sincerely,

Don and Cheryl Meints

Postscript:  Day of the Ottersberg Monuments Project, May 27, 2000—around 3 p.m.

The 50 Ottersberg family members slowly dispersed after the singing of the doxology, some mingling afterward in conversation around the headstones.  The prairie winds blew fiercely, and the threat of rain imminent the entire day.  A reporter from one of the Lincoln, Nebraska television stations approached with her huge camera and tripod, perching it directly in front of my face.  I had not known she would participate in the entire dedication ceremony nor that I was to be interviewed.  Just as well.  The reporter shared after the interview that she was caught up in her emotions during the ceremony, similar to the winds whipping the clouds around overhead.

I shuffled the papers I held and waited for her interview questions.  It went well, but by now my own emotions tethered around me like string and ball wrapping itself to the pole.  Gripping—any moment to be released in a flood of tears.  Later that evening the 3-minute interview was on the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Lincoln news.

Few were left now at the cemetery, mostly committee members.  Standing alone, almost frozen in time myself, one of them walked over to me.  She placed her arms around me tightly, hugged my neck firmly, and whispered in my ears, “Well done, Cheryl.”  Absolutely no one knew I had begged the Lord the morning of the dedication to somehow confirm to me that I had been a faithful, obedient servant.

“His Master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant…”  Matthew 25:21.

I could let it all go now.

God had spoken…again.

Note: my mother (maiden name Ottersberg) was not able to attend the dedication on May 27, 2000.  However, the photo below was taken in June during one of our afternoon outings.  She mentioned several times before her death in 2003 of helping her mother as a small child clean the graves that were now marked.  I feel there must have been wooden markers which rotted and memory of them lost over the years.

For anyone wanting to know about the Ottersberg family or this project, I can be contacted at corinthrose@gmail.com   Please include Ottersberg Monuments Project in the subject line.

If anyone would have knowledge of Harm and Elena’s Germany port  and emigration date  as well as port and date of American immigration, oh how I would like this information.  At this point in time my best estimate has been Germany emigration in 1892.  This date was calculated by comparing various documents.

The following website provides a wealth of information for Gage County, Nebraska, including a burial index plus headstone photographs of those whose final resting is at Zion Lutheran Cemetery, rural Pickrell, Nebraska:

http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/county/gage/index1.htm

Now if you aren’t on genealogical information overload by now and interested in historical information about the Ottersberg’s German origins near the North Sea, definitely visit my friend Jürgen Adams website at http://www.wiesmoor-info.de/  Click on English for pulldown menu.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever.”  Amen.  Ephesians 3:20

(Next post in two weeks:  June 9, 2012–Where’s the Birds?)

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About corinthrose

Born again Christian, helpmate of 42 years, domestic engineer of two children, GRANDmother of six darlings, professional volunteer, fanatic photographer, and a wanna be writer. Occasionally, infatuated with family history, flower photography, and traveling with my hiking buddy.
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6 Responses to A Monumental Family Project

  1. Pat Trainum says:

    What an amazing story. One hundred and one years. And you were the one to do it! I’m proud of you. I love going to cemeteries and looking at the headstones and wondering about the people buried there. Their lives, the dash between the two dates, all of it. Great post and so appropriate this weekend.

  2. Sheryl says:

    I agree with Pat– what an amazing story! It is wonderful how your family has provided headstones for those who previously didn’t have them.

  3. Thank you for posting this article, Cheryl. It makes me remember about our first contacts about 12 years ago. You asked my permission to re-publish my article on the village of Spetzerfehn, Ostfriesland, Germany where parts of your Otterberg ancestors were originating from. Spetzerfehn is neighboring my hometown, Wiesmoor where I am the chronicler of. On my website I talk about Wiesmoor itself and the towns and villages around. As many people of this region emigrated to the USA, mostly Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, I published some history of the towns in the English language. Interested people will find it here:
    http://www.wiesmoor-info.de/html/english.html
    Additionally, I’ve posted aome monuments of entire Ostfriesland. The pages are in the German, section, but the pages under
    http://www.wiesmoor-info.de/html/monument.html
    are in both languages, German and English.
    Hope someone will find this interesting.
    For further informations one can reach me at adams@wiesmoor-info.de

  4. alwayzhis says:

    A wonderful article, so filled with memories of times past. Thank you for sharing!
    Blessings Cheryl!
    Stephanie

  5. Pingback: Andersonville National Historic Site…remembering | Corinth Rose

  6. Rebecca W. Walker says:

    Your website is wonderful ! Reading your story stirs the heart and I feel honored to be allowed to be a small part of your story. Thank you for bringing your story to others. I hope it encourages other families to seek and remember those from whom we came.

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