Wallace Bates, Benjamin Goodwin, and Alma Larson are the first three graves in the cemetery at Cambridge State Hospital to be marked by name. During a somber yet joyful ceremony on Wednesday, May 22, the three new grave markers were installed, replacing the old markers that merely listed initials and an identification number. “We’re here today to honor those who have lived and died in institutions,” said Remembering with Dignity (RWD) Co-chair Carol Robinson. “We hope to continue this project forever; it means a lot to me.”
RWD is a coalition of disability rights and advocacy organizations working across Minnesota to replace all unidentified grave markers in state hospital cemeteries with named grave markers. With time and under the care of RWD, all of the approximately 350 graves in the Cambridge cemetery will have markers that include the name of the deceased, as well as the dates of birth and death.
Purple irises, which are a symbol of hope among those with mental illness, were planted near the graves and worn by members of RWD and others involved in the project.
Minnesota Senator Twyla Ring had proposed legislation to help RWD receive state funding with their project. “Should the civic and church groups help pay for the names of those forgotten here? Perhaps, but in the meantime the state buried these people and should help….”
In the 2001 legislative session, RWD received $250,000 to help buy grave markers, but hasn’t received the money yet.
“We are here today . . . for a happy occasion at a cemetery how often does that happen?” Ring said. “We will not forget; we will remember with dignity.”
During the ceremony, speakers thanked everyone for their hard work and dedication to the project. “One thing that impresses me most about the project, is the number of people involved with the project,” said Mike Maus, Director of Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO). “I have great faith that what’s happening today, will continue. . . I hope this will stay a special place for the community of Cambridge.”
A client from METO had a personal connection with the placing of grave markers. “Personally, I know how meaningless a number on a grave can be,” said METO client Jeremy Walker. “Now I can go visit my step aunt’s grave in Faribault. Thank you on behalf of all those buried here without a voice. We are real people; those who have lived in the past are real people.”
Prior to the placing of the grave markers, Barb and Eben Gillispie sang “I Will Change Your Name.” The lyrics are:
I will change your name
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.
I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one,
Faithfulness, friend of God,
And one who seeks My face.
Following the placing of the grave markers, community members had a chance to say a few words. Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer said the project should never be forgotten. “As a community we need to remember . . . the vision of this should always be remembered.”
Following community comments Chuck Sabin asked the audience to join hands and form a circle; he then led them in prayer.
This article was adapted and reprinted by permission of the Isanti County News.