The Museum of Natural and Cultural History has recognized Coos Bay’s Marshfield High School with the 2018 Oregon Stewardship Award.
The $1,000 award honors work Marshfield students, educators and community partners are doing to steward the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery. The region’s primary burial ground from 1888 through 1920, the cemetery is home to roughly 2,000 graves, including Native American tribal members and some of the area’s first European-American settlers.
Also buried in the cemetery are nearly 100 veterans from several conflicts, 60 of whom served in the Civil War.
Over the years, the cemetery, which is adjacent to the high school campus, fell victim to neglect and vandalism and was eventually closed to the public save for two days a year. But in 2003, a Marshfield student took an interest in the site and produced an informational brochure underscoring its importance as a community resource.
The project gained momentum and today, the cemetery has been transformed by new fencing, headstones for previously unmarked veterans’ graves, signage and interpretive panels, all funded by generous local donations.
“Hundreds of students have initiated or supported service projects in the cemetery through classes and school clubs,” said project leader Cricket Soules. She calls the site a unique learning laboratory that provides students with academic and practical learning opportunities spanning history, landscaping, event planning and construction.
“We couldn’t have accomplished this without our generous community partners,” Soules said.
The city of Coos Bay, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, and local units of the U.S. Army National Guard and Coast Guard have been key partners, as have local veteran’s groups and the Coos Bay Garden Club. Pacific Fence and Wire Co., West Coast Monument and Giddings Boatworks have supplied materials, and numerous individuals have donated, including philanthropist Martha Butler, whose relatives are buried at the cemetery.
Launched in December by the museum’s advisory council, the annual award recognizes an individual or organization that has significantly engaged its community in an environmental or cultural heritage project that aligns with the museum's mission to inspire stewardship of the region’s collective past, present and future.
“Every day, the museum’s stewardship mission brings us into contact with Oregon heroes — people who are doing amazing work to protect and preserve our ecosystems, landscapes and cultures,” said Jon Erlandson, the museum’s executive director. “The Oregon Stewardship Award shines a well-deserved spotlight on that work.”
“We were inspired by nominations of meaningful and creative projects happening around the state — from Coos Bay to Baker City — and want to celebrate these efforts,” said Ann Craig, the museum’s public programs director. “We also hope to encourage others to join activities that help preserve our unique Oregon experience.
In addition to the cash prize, Marshfield High School will be recognized at an award reception this spring at the museum. They will also become part of an Oregon Heroes display panel in the museum’s Explore Oregon exhibition hall.
—By Kristin Strommer, Museum of Natural and Cultural History