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Caretakers learn about Peabody pioneers

Staff writer

Don and Elnor Stutzman do more than just mow the grass, dig dandelions, plant decorative foliage, and secure the gates at Catlin Community Cemetery north of Peabody. They have also delved into the history behind the gravestones they have faithfully watched over for almost 10 years. They have learned the history of several Peabody pioneers.

“If I am going to be out here mowing around these stones, I want to know a little about the people they represent,” Don Stutsman said. “There are so many stories here that are just lost to the main public, interesting stories about interesting people. It’s sad there is not more interest in this history.”

Located at the site of the former Catlin Mennonite Church 1 mile west and 3.5 miles north of Peabody, the cemetery is home to 125 graves. Most burials took place from 1886 to 1961, but some are more recent with one, Allen White, recorded in 2003.

“Allen was a caretaker here and wanted to be buried here,” Stutzman said. “My wife and I plan to be buried here too. It’s a beautiful place. Our son is here, and so is Joe Dohner. I always said I want my feet close to Joe Dohner.”

Stutzman said he learned part of Joe Dohner’s life story by researching at the library and online. His father, Joseph H. Dohner was born in 1835 and died in 1899 after being hit by the Rock Island Rocket near Peabody. Joe Dohner was one of 14 children, and as far as Stutzman was concerned, he was a lucky one. Another Dohner, the oldest brother, Addison, was born in 1861, but died in his 20s when a boiler on a threshing machine blew up.

“The Joe Dohner I want to be buried by lived a good, long life. He died in 1945, with no tragedies that I know of,” Stutzman said.

There were plenty of tragedy stories surrounding other graves at Catlin Cemetery, Stutzman said. Some had ties to local people in the community, and Stutzman wanted to be sensitive about that.

“There is an entire family buried here that suffered great tragedy,” he said. “Even though it happened in 1908, those who know anything about the Catlin Cemetery and the people who used to live in this community know about that one.”

A famous person buried at Catlin Cemetery that many might not know about is B. F. Hamilton.

Stutzman said Hamilton was a close relative to Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

B. F. Hamilton came to the Peabody area in 1883 as a Mennonite Church planter. He was instrumental in establishing the Catlin Mennonite Church in 1886 and died in 1898. His grave is marked at the Catlin Cemetery in row A-IV.

Research done by White, mentioned earlier, and by Donald Good, a brother of Charles Good (another member of the cemetery care board) plots out all known markers and individuals buried at the cemetery. This information can be accessed online at http://www.dgatx.com/family/places/Catlin-Cemetery/hs.html.

Some information remains unknown, however, including the recent discovery of up to 14 graves of Mennonite children buried there during the flu epidemics of 1874.

“We’re having trouble maintaining the cemetery and could use some help,” Stutzman said. “There is a lot of history to learn here yet and we are searching for a way to sustain the upkeep.”

Stutzman and Good, along with Paul Diener and Harold Beck are looking to establish an endowment fund to help pay for maintenance costs at the cemetery. He invites others wishing to help preserve the history of the Catlin Cemetery to inquire about serving on the board or contributing memorial gifts to the endowment fund. He can be reached at (620) 327-4418.

Stutzman grew up on a farm three miles from the cemetery and attended church there with his parents. Though he currently lives in Halstead, he and his wife, Elnor, plan to buried at Catlin when the time comes.

Last modified April 25, 2012

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