What do living in a retirement community and a cemetery have in common? For a writer, both are a treasure chest of stories. Each person and every buried person has a story.
Meeting new people is always exciting. We learn where they are from and what they did before they retired. In our immediate circle of friends have a patchwork quilt of experiences. One lady was born in England and can tell you of the bombings by the Nazis during World War II. Another gentleman, now deceased, was in the Army in Europe in World War II and told of his encounter freeing inmates from a Nazi concentration camp. Even after over 50 years he still had nightmares of that encounter.
One gentleman and I reminisced about being in World War II and many times he has said to me: "Were we in the same war?" His experiences and mine had few similarities although we were both fighting the Japanese. He was in New Guinea, Philippines and Japan and I was in China-Burma-India. My wife Connie grew up on an Iowa farm and several of our friends were raised on farms also. They have similar experiences yet different and many friends our age recall The Depression years.
A common thread with us all is that times were tough when we were young but we all profited from those experiences. Another fellow spent most of his life in the military being stationed in Turkey, England, Japan and many posts in the USA. Wow! Everybody has a story so give them an ear.
I became involved in trying to work up a program about the Okoboji Cemetery. Okoboji Cemetery is neither in Okoboji nor even on the shores of East or West Okoboji but is in Arnolds Park on the shore of Lake Minnewashta. My grandparents, Ed and Lucy LaFoy are buried there as are my Uncle Jack and Sally LaFoy, Ray & Freda Nicol and scores of others I was acquainted with during my life.
There are many buried there from Milford. Grandmother La Foy loved the Okoboji Cemetery, was the first to die; hence my grandfather, etc. Okoboji Cemetery is a beautiful setting and with the new Veteran's Memorial, landscaping, entrance and fence it is a wonderful resting place for our loved ones. The "cattle guard" at the main entrance was removed when Highway 71 was enlarged.
The stories that the inhabitants in the Okoboji Cemetery could tell are endless. But seeking information about their lives is a constant research problem. Probably one of the best sources is the old copies of the Milford Mail and the Spirit Lake Beacon. Thank heaven the newspapers were preserved. With the advent of the computer anyone can troll through the old issues clear back to the 1880s. What a wealth of information those newspapers yield to any diligent researcher. Unfortunately both newspapers published summer papers but those were not saved and we only have hard copies scattered hither and yon.
The American Legion Post of Arnolds Park faithfully placed flags on the graves of veterans for many years but they disbanded several years ago and individuals now render that service. I secured a map of the cemetery with the veterans' graves indentified. At last count there are close to 74 veterans buried in the Okoboji Cemetery. Twenty-two of the veterans are from the American Civil War 1861-1865, one from the Mexican War (1845), one from the Spanish-American War and many from World War I and II. There are also several fellows from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. There being many fellows in the armed forces today, future interned veterans will be from our more modern wars.
In my research of the Civil War veterans interned in Okoboji Cemetery I was amazed to find via the Internet a list of all 22 as well as photos of their tombstones. One of the government projects during The Depression was generated by the WPA (Works Projects Administration). In those days people on the dole were required to render some service; not just get money and no work as we have today with many of our so called entitlement programs and unemployment doles. Anyway, one of the WPA projects was to stroll and research cemeteries, identify and photograph veterans' tombstones of the Civil War. It is truly a wonder research program. I was able to find all of them via the total list of people interred at the Okoboji Cemetery on the internet. The list gives the names, date of birth, date of death and location. The cemetery is well laid out and wonderful records have been kept.
Many of the tombstones are unique and yet there are several graves with unknowns. Several have no markers and one of those is a Civil War veteran. One grave has 13 unknown pioneers buried there because back in the 1920s an abandoned cemetery was unearthed on the east edge of Arnold Park. A new gravel pit was opened and the graves were found. Thanks to the sexton of the Okoboji Cemetery at that time (Val Rausch) who constructed wooden coffins and erected a marker. It reads "13 Unknown Pioneers."
Not far from my grandparent's graves is another unusual memorial. The grave is marked with a government issued stone but beside it is a white steel cross with a World War I army helmet bolted on the top of the cross; thereby making a wonderful but tragic story. Walter "Wave" Miguel (32 -- born Oct. 5, 1887) went with the big contingent (167) from Dickinson County in July, 1918 to be sworn into the U.S. Army. The group went to Camp Pike and was assigned to the infantry. Wave went to France and was killed in action on Nov. 10, 1918. He had only been on the front lines for several weeks. The Armistice and war was over at 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918. Wave Miguel made the supreme sacrifice. He was killed at Louppy-sur-Loison, Meuse, France. Wave was born and raised in Arnolds Park. His parents Mr. and Mrs. Henry Miguel had three sons in France in World War I. Wave was the oldest of the three sons.
Three years later Wave Miguel's body was brought back from France to Arnolds Park. The Oct. 20, 1921, edition of the Spirit Lake Beacon printed the following, "Body of Wave Miguel on the way home from France. A message was received Wednesday announcing the fact that the remains of Walter Wave Miguel, son of Mr. & Mrs. Henry Miguel of Arnolds Park, and brother of E. A. Miguel, County Clerk, was shipped from New York City on Wednesday and is expected here this week. Although it is difficult to determine when the remains will arrive yet, a tentative funeral program has been arranged and if the body arrives a military funeral will be held at Arnolds Park (Okoboji Cemetery) on Sunday afternoon at 2 o'clock. The Milford Post of the American Legion will have charge of the funeral, as many of the Milford boys were in his contingent and also with him when he was killed in France. The members of the Timpe Post, Spirit Lake will attend the funeral in body. Delegations were also present from Terril and Lake Park."
This is but one of the stories researched about the people who are buried in the Okoboji Cemetery.
I have book #6, "Strolling Down Memory Lane at the Iowa Great Lakes" recently published and it is for sale at local stores.