Residents take care of Emmanuel Cemetery
By Tucker Henderson
For many years, there was a small hill near the south shore of Rush Lake which had an old abandoned cemetery. The old cemetery remained unused and neglected until only recently. The church that once used the cemetery long ago moved to Ottertail and has either merged into the current Ottertail Methodist Church or dissolved years ago.
The church began when a few families became frustrated with the restrictive rules set by Reverend Eifert at St. John’s Lutheran Church of Ottertail. A number of members broke away to start their own church under the flag of the Evangelical Association. These German families lived and farmed around Rush Lake, including the families of Truhn, Boehl, Kempf, Brandt, Rieman and Eckhart.
The Immanuel Church of the Evangelical Association of North America, as it was officially known, adopted its name during the initial meeting in Ottertail City on November 12, 1890 at which it was incorporated. The church took on the principles and doctrines of the Evangelical Society as adopted in the Minnesota conference.
The first death in the congregation was Arthur Kempf, son of founding members William and Martha (Truhn) Kempf, in August of 1893. As tradition with many cemeteries, William donated the parcel of land off of his property for the church to have a cemetery and so that his son had a place to be buried close to home.
Over time many changes came to the area. The church was moved to Ottertail in 1915 and over the years, early members died and the cemetery was forgotten. The Otto Otters 4-H club was one group that tried to clear the forgotten cemetery, but ran into too many problems with poison ivy and wood ticks. The Ottertail Central Area Target Council also made an effort in the fall of 1970, but all attempts to clear the abandoned cemetery did not last long.
That was until 2009, when Otto Township residents Margie Hanson, Dale and Linda Menze, and Richard and Mildred Imsande came together to clear the forgotten eyesore that had sat neglected for decades.
“I married Dale in 1970 and moved into this area,” said Linda Menze. “This was a dirt road. That cemetery was always overgrown and never mowed. The lilacs had grown so that you could just see the cap of one of the headstones.
“I always wanted it cleaned up. It just seemed a shame to drive by and have this abandoned, grown over cemetery,” Menze continued. “It was kind of like God said, ‘OK, I’ll send Dale.’ He had a new brush hog to go on the front of the Bobcat. So he went in there and started brush hogging to find around the lilacs and all that stuff.”
Menze’s interest in the cemetery came about after doing research on her own family history, which lead her down other research rabbit holes. This resulted in her writing the St. John’s Lutheran Church’s 125th anniversary book, as well as family history books on each of the Imsande, Menze, and Perala families.
“This whole thing snowballed on me because I started out to do the Imsandes and they traced me to the first confirmation class ever at St. John’s Ottertail, which was my great grandfather and his brother,” said Menze. “So I went to their records and ended up doing the 125th anniversary book for their celebration. Then I was in the church, so I did the Menzes.”
Like the 4-H group members, Margie Hanson also ran into problems with poison ivy. She even ended up at the doctor’s office because of it. Menze’s grandson sprayed the rest of it so that clean up could continue.
“Straight line winds had gone through this area and these fast growing popple trees—there was a barbed wire fence along the road here—and these popple trees had fell and the barbed wire was mixed in,” said Menze of the start of the process with her sister Margie Hanson. “I goaded her one day and said, ‘Oh, could you come over and help me a little bit?’ I don’t remember what it was, maybe I wanted to give her a project.”
“That’s how I remember it,” laughed Hanson. “I couldn’t do it alone, but because I lived next to it, it would be obvious that I would be the caretaker.”
The process became a community project for the Imsande/Menze families.
“At the very beginning, both mom and dad, they spent a lot of time trying to get that barbed wire out,” said Hanson. “The old barbed wire, you bend it and it just cracks.”
Hanson and Menze’s father, Richard Imsande, lived in the neighborhood when the clearing process began and contributed his skills to the project as well.
“Our father, who’s going to be 94 in July,” said Menze, “Whenever a tree would go down or something like that, away he’d go with his chainsaw.”
“Before he went to the nursing home,” Hanson said, “At 92 years old, he cut the stumps off for me so I could mow. I said, ‘you know that really bugs me,’ he said, ‘that’s really bugging me too.’ Every time he’d go to church he’d see them.”
After the initial clearing, Hanson and Menze did some searching around the cemetery to see what they had to work with for future upkeep. An old wrought iron fence and gate marks the southern border of the cemetery and a few stakes mark some of the corners.
“Roger Krause that lives over here said that when they moved in there were more stones up there,” said Menze. “My dad had a golf club that he had taken the club off of and we were up there poking, trying to find anything. We found the stones that plat off the cemetery, the stones for some corners, but we never could find any flat stones. Whether families came and got them or not, I don’t know.”
“There’s actually been some burials up there in the last couple years,” laughed Menze. “Where do you go and get permission when there’s no church and nobody really owns it?”
While cleaning the north end of the cemetery, they found out that they had cleared some of Krause’s property as they cleared to the property stakes.
“When we went in there, we were able to find the corner stakes and on this back corner, we found some fence posts. After we had cleared it, because the very back of the cemetery has this Truhn grave marker, and then according to Krause, we had cleared too far,” laughed Menze. “They were okay with us clearing that far, we were getting rid of their poison ivy.
“When you find a post and it’s in cement, you know that somebody did it on purpose,” she continued. “It isn’t just somebody’s fencing. Margie wanted to removed those black corner, angle irons that are out there on the front two corners. I said ‘no, no, no! They’re historical.’”
Nowadays, the fence, gate, and angle iron corners are all painted black and a sign bearing the name “Emmanuel Cemetery” marks the spot for those passing by on Highway 54.
“The first summer didn’t look beautiful,” said Menze. “Now, she puts out the flags for Memorial Weekend and for Flag Day.”
“I can’t help myself,” said Hanson. “I like doing that kind of thing.”
Hanson touches up the fences and each year repaints the gold finials atop the posts. She also is the main caretaker who mows and weed whips the cemetery. To her, it’s all about respect.
“It’s an abandoned cemetery,” said Hanson. “Because I keep it up, I think that keeps people from tearing around in it. Somebody was going to have to maintain it once we cleaned it and it took days and days to uncover what was there.”