Local Students Map Cemeteries, Help VFW

A local school project is educating students and giving back at the same time.

FAIRBURY - Some local high school students are making us proud. Students at Prairie Central High School in Fairbury are researching the history of their home towns and helping the community all at the same time.

It started with a phone call, when VFW member Roger McDowell asked the school, if students could walk through the local cemeteries and see if there were any veteran graves that needed to be fixed.

“It's like a snowball going downhill, it's really big right now,” said McDowell. “To us, this means a lot to refurbish these.”

Social studies teacher Andrew Quain decided to take that idea one step further.

“If we were at the cemetery doing that research, it would be nice to have a database where people could look up,” he explained.

Now, each quarter, groups of geography students take a week to map a local cemetery.

Senior Laine Honegger explained, “We're going through and writing down information about the stones.”

They’re writing down every name and every date, from every headstone, especially the veterans. That information will be put into an online map that people can use to look up loved ones.

“There's been a lot of people that have stopped by wondering what we were doing and are very happy and thrilled this work is being done,” Quain said.

This quarter, students are finishing up mapping Graceland Cemetery, the largest in the district. But there are still 18 more to complete. The whole project could take two or three years to complete.

“We can learn how the development of cemeteries changed over time and then tie that into different historical events that happened in or around Fairbury,” said Quain.

Honeger added, “We had someone that was like 1812, I think. So, it's been really far back, so it's been interesting. There was also a stone that had German on it, so that was cool.”

And while the students are learning, they're also helping.

“It's something simple for us to come out and do a school project and show our appreciation,” said Honegger, talking about helping the VFW.

Quain said, “It’s important to preserve the history in this area and it's great to see students getting interested in their communities.”

The VFW will use the completed maps to repair any damaged headstones. Those maps will also be available online as the students finish each cemetery, for anyone else who wants to use them on Prairie Central’s website, or directly at http://www.prairiecentral.org/highschool/geography-class-cemetery-project/


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