Oakdale Cemetery, one of the venues for the annual Memorial Day ceremonies hosted by the Crookston Veteran’s Council, is located at the northwest end of Memorial Drive in Crookston and its Association was started by the Masons and International Order of Oddfellows in 1884. The Minnesota Genealogical Society reports that the cemetery itself was established in 1873, but burial records didn’t begin until 1882.
Oakdale’s Mortuary Building was erected in 1923, at the cost of $8,500, and its plaque recognizes the architect, George M. Riedesal, contractors, Chris Eickhof & Sons, its associates with familiar last names such as Walsh, Wallace, Slocum, Strander, and Fournet, its trustees, and officers.
In 2016, the Crookston Family History Researchers, formerly the Ancestry Club, participated in “Find a Grave Community Days” at the cemetery where they photographed and uploaded pictures of monuments and markers to findagrave.com. The pictures are now accessible around the world by family members involved in their own family research.
According to “Find a Grave”, there are over 8,500 memorials at Oakdale Cemetery in Crookston including “famous” memorials of U.S. Congressmen, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign War) organization namesake from Minneapolis, and a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
Oakdale is currently listed as a charitable organization which allows for tax-deductible donations to be given and its board members and fourth-generation caretaker, Chris Blokzyl, have a wish list of items they’d like to repair such as the roads and older headstones that need straightening. To make a donation, contact Lester Wilkens at (218) 289-1956.
Below you’ll find a story by Marlin Denison, submitted by Wilkens, that takes its audience through the history of Oakdale Cemetery Association’s establishment.
“A Time To Remember” by Marlin Denison
Wednesday, May 2, 1884, a number of Crookston citizens met for the purpose of forming a Cemetery Assn, under the provisions of Title 5 of Chapter 34 of the General Laws of the State of Minn. Among those present were: Robert Houston, C.H. Mix, A.M. Stewart, S.F. Markham, O.H. Lucken, W.D. Hurlbut, K.D. Chase, A.B. Gorgas, Notary Public and C.S. Spendley Register of Deeds.
Then on June 30th, 1886, Sidney F. Markham, Pres. and W.G. Ross, Treas. registered the purchase, for the consideration of $200, Block 1 through 8 in Division “D”, (eighty lots in all) on behalf of Oak Dale Cemetery Assn. In the absence of minutes of those meetings, we may speculate that they were all members of “Crookston Lodge #79 I.O.O.F., and possibly the purchase price was advanced by the Odd Fellows Lodge, as those present all appear to have been members and officers of that organization.
We later find the statement that, “there will be no speculation in lots, nor dividends paid, but any profits are to be used for the improvement of the grounds; the Cemetery has not and never will be an expense to the City.”
This, only 12 years after Capt. Fred Bill, on orders from the Hudson Bay Company, took the steamboat “Dakota” up the Red Lake River on an exploratory expedition to determine the navigability and facilities to where Crookston is now located. Among the passengers on board the “Dakota” where Norman Kittson James J. Hill, W.F. Ruxton, Toronto Globe correspondent, and “Butts” Sargent of Fort Garry.
Crookston was then mainly a tent city. The railroad had reached the river but the bridge was incomplete.
“All day we felt our way upward, finding snags and floodwood in many places some of which had to be cleaned out before we could proceed,” reported Capt. Bill.
They reached the area on the river, near where the G.N. depot later was erected, at 6:15 on the morning of the fourth of September 1872. “The Dakota’s whistle screamed shrilly on the crisp morning air, bringing the inhabitants out in full force to behold the first steamboat to land at that then unnamed place.”
Crookston was growing, becoming civilized and looking to a prosperous future, and the association instituted by those early leaders of the community has continued to this day to fulfill obligations they then took upon themselves.
The Oakdale association minutes that are available reveal that in March 1916 Henry Krogman was appointed sexton at a salary of seventy-five dollars a month with addition allowance of two hundred per annum for horse hire and the necessary tools for digging, setting monuments, and care of the grounds. At that time he was also maintaining the adjacent Calvary Cemetery and the Our Saviors Lutheran Cemetery, which was later transferred to the Oakdale property. That property was located just inside and to the north of the east, gate in the area where the columbarium now rests.
In 1927 the Hon. Halvor Steenerson, distinguished, long time congressman from this district, bequeathed funds to erect a memorial and additional land was purchased from E.W. Schuster. With the approval of the executors, of the Steenerson estate, the present pillars were erected and iron fence and gates placed at the east entrance which were removed during World War II.
At that time, and for many years Tom Morris, who had a jewelry store in the building on second street now occupied by John Winters law office, served as president of the association. He was very prominent in Minnesota as an officer of Masonic organizations and during his tenure moneys were borrowed from the Masonic Lodge to assist the maintenance of the Cemetery.
The failure, in 1924, of the Merchants National Bank causing financial problems for the association members: then consisting of such prominent persons as Felix Fournet, C.C. Strander, W.L. Irland, A.O. Busterud, W.E. Slocum, E.M. Walsh and L.W. Larson. In the following years the position of Sec-Treas has been filled by C.M. Lumpkin, Fred MacGregor, Carmie Skjie, Gordon Emerson and now Jim Jerde. Otto Eickhof was a long time president succeeded for shorter terms by various persons including Carl Lundeen, Marvin Johnson and now by Leo Luettjohann.
July 23, 1923 the low bid ($5,770.00) of Chris Eickhof and Sons for the construction of mausoleum-chapel was accepted. The plans drawn up by architect George Riedesel included a wood burning stove, facilities to hold memorial services, committal rites and a device to lower the casket to the basement where storage was available until the spring thaw.
In 1933 Art Krogman took over from his father as superintendent and during his tenure mechanization began to change working conditions and a pickup, tractor, mowers, and equipment were purchased by the association and no longer furnished by the sexton, and the horse was retired.
In 1960 Kenneth “Digger” Blokzyl was hired assistant to his wife’s grandfather, Art Krogman. Now, Digger’s son, Chris Blokzyl is assisting his father, and so continues a family tradition, pride and dedication in maintaining our beautiful, restful, memorial grounds.
On June 24, 1925, Mr. W.C. Simpson, commander of the American Legion Post, appeared before board to request an area be granted for the privilege of creating in the Cemetery ground, a prominent speakers stand, suitable for decoration day services, which was granted. The obelisk prominently marks the spot where we now gather to honor our deceased.
100 years ago on Saturday, May 31, 1903, the “Crookston Times” announced the program for Decoration Day. “The passing days bring us again to Memorial Day, when we garland the resting place of our heroic dead with flowers of the budding spring time, and droop above them the flag whose purity and glory they offered their lives. The good deeds left behind them form a chain to bind them to those who linger here.”
“Line of March”: From Broadway to city hall, facing south, thence to Loring street, from Loring to Main street, thence on Main street to Sixth, and on sixth to cemetery. “Order of Procession”: Police Department Band, Mayor, Orator of the Day, and Clergyman in Carriages, City Council in Carriages Co. I Minn. Nat. Guards, Co. Colman Post No. 90 G.A.R., Women’s Relief Corps, Fire Department, Societies, School Children, and Citizens in Carriage.
Thus they proceeded that afternoon to the ceremonies at the Cemetery. Wish we could replicate that event this Memorial Day but many will be off to the lake and doing their own thing. Yet there are a dedicated member, mostly veterans, who will see that it’s properly observed. Please try to be there.
The cemetery association continues to fulfill its aims but is quite concerned over present finances caused by the low interest rates and the necessity of keeping perpetual care funds in secure investments which traditionally offer little growth and low interest returns.
Some of the rural cemeteries have received bequests which should insure the future care. Perhaps some of you will consider this in your will and others remember Oakdale with their memorials to departed friends.