A nine-year, volunteer-led project to bring dignity to a long neglected cemetery has at long last received its final touches.
Through the addition of storyboards, visitors to the Outagamie County Cemetery will now get a better understanding of the burial grounds and its place in the often difficult history of mental health treatment in our community.
TLC Signs has just installed three storyboards along the trail to the cemetery. The project was funded by The Nelson Family Fund within The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, Friends of the Outagamie County Cemetery and TLC Signs. Using photos and narrative, the signage provides a brief history of the Outagamie County Asylum and the small cemetery for those who died there and were not claimed by family.
The community is invited to the cemetery – located between Brewster Village and Fox Valley Technical College in Grand Chute – to read the storyboards and reflect on the history in the serene, respectful environment.
The cemetery had largely gone forgotten before volunteers recognized the indignity and sought remedies. The land, devoid of headstones, was overgrown, littered and marked only with a misspelled metal sign.
Volunteers began work in 2013. In the first phase, Anthropology Professor Peter Peregrine and his Lawrence University students completed a survey and found all 133 burial locations. Engineer Bill Henry created a formal blueprint for restoration of the grounds and was assisted in carrying out the design by FVTC landscaping students and others.
In 2015, a dedication ceremony was held during which high school students read the names of those laid to rest. Today, the cemetery includes a granite memorial listing the names of those buried, a pergola and an engraved, black granite bench. A contractor recently repaired the pre-1903 stone bridge crossing the stream along the walking path.
While the history of mental health treatment is often difficult, the project shows just how far we have come in the treatment, care and recognition of those with mental illnesses and disabilities.
Friends of Outagamie County Cemetery wish to thank the many businesses, institutions and individuals that contributed to the completion of this important project. It was a true community effort that illustrates the compassion and respect of our residents.