The State Association for the Preservation of Iowa Cemeteries (SAPIC) will present a Harlan man with the annual Robert & Phyllis Carter Award this weekend. Ron Chamberlain will be honored for his leadership, continuous efforts, and historical discoveries in a group effort to restore pioneer cemeteries in western Iowa. The event takes place Sunday afternoon (Oct. 26) at the Shelby County Historical Society, beginning at 1:30pm.
Chamberlain says it’s nice to be recognized for his efforts, especially since the past 17 awards have gone to persons in eastern Iowa. He started WIPCA – the Western Iowa Pioneer Cemetery Association – back in 2010. Chamberlain says since then, they’ve found three graves in Shelby County alone, for veterans of the War of 1812 in old pioneer cemeteries.
The non-tax supported organization he founded is dedicated to locating and restoring early historical cemeteries and burial plots in Shelby, and adjoining counties. Chamberlain says they’d like to expand their work into Fremont, Mills and Page counties, as well, as interest in the organization continues to grow. He says they currently have 120 members. Chamberlain says wherever they work, locals come out and tell stories about old cemeteries they may have seen or heard about.
The group uses ground-penetrating radar to locate graves, which are sometimes unmarked in the ancient, long-forgotten cemeteries. One of their sites they will investigate next Spring is about two-miles east of Portsmouth. It’s called “Cologne Settlement” – named after Cologne, Germany. The site once held a church in the 1880’s, and likely a pioneer cemetery.
Chamberlain says they hope to spread interest in Iowa history to area schools. He says next Spring they want to travel to Harlan, Atlantic and elsewhere to teach the State’s history to 5th and 6th graders. Chamberlain used to teach history in the 1970’s, when Iowa was a mandatory part of the curriculum. He says its “Not right,” that it’s not part of the current curriculum.
As a winner of the Carter award, Chamberlain will receive $200 to help his group identify pioneer cemeteries The Carter Award is presented to an individual or group that has established outstanding achievements in the restoration, preservation and maintenance of pioneer cemeteries in the state of Iowa. Pioneer cemeteries, by Iowa law, are those cemeteries that have twelve or fewer burials within the past fifty years.