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After eight years of doing groundskeeping at Corinthian Cemetery, Aaron Ehlers has a pattern when it comes to manuevering a riding mower around the gravestones. Ehlers and his father, Buzz, have been hard at work this weeek preparing for the typically busy Memorial Day weekend

It's a warm, sunny Tuesday morning. In the southwest corner of the property, Aaron Ehlers fires up his riding lawn mower. He's got a big job ahead of him. Actually, the yard work he does this week will take him a good three or four days.

Come Monday, his work will be on display for hundreds of visitors.

Aaron and his dad, Buzz, are the caretakers for Corinthian Cemetery in Farmington. They've been doing the job ever since one of the Corinthian Cemetery board members, Jerry Grant, finally convinced Buzz to take on the job eight years ago.

The Corinthian Cemetery has been around Farmington almost as long as Farmington has been a community. Land for the cemetery, located off of 209th Street West, was donated by H.W. Hosmer, a Mason, in 1872. Because Hosmer was a member of Farmington's Masonic Temple, Corinthian Cemetery has remained under the local Masons' care for generations since.

But that is not to say the cemetery is a "members only" kind of place. Aaron Ehlers says the Masons have opened Corinthian Cemetery to the entire community, regardless of religion, political affiliation, or race.

"It doesn't matter who it is. They all get the same treatment of perpetual care," Aaron Ehlers said.

There are about 1,600 of Farmington's residents buried at the Corinthian Cemetery, plus a few hundred more next door, at the St. Michael's Cemetery, which has adjoining land.

Buzz and Aaron Ehlers care primarily for the Corinthian Cemetery, though. And the week leading into Memorial Day is usually one of the biggest weeks of their year.

Family tradition

Buzz was not available to visit on Tuesday, but Aaron was out bright and early that morning, getting the work started. The Memorial Day weekend usually brings out the most visitors of the year, so it's important to have the grounds in top form.

Both men are usually out at the cemetery two to three times a week. Buzz handles technical things, like selling the burial plots to families or assisting in setting the headstones. Aaron takes care of much of the landscaping, but helps his dad whenever needed.

It's actually kind of a family tradition for the Ehlers. Buzz started caretaking in cemeteries when he was about 17, working with his father and grandfather out at the Castle Rock Cemetery back in the 1950s. Aaron figures that is the reason Grant asked Buzz to start at Corinthian Cemetery eight years ago - Buzz has the knowledge and the care necessary to upkeep the final resting place for so many family members.

Peaceful scene

But for the dull roar of the lawn mower's motor, things were quiet out at Corinthian Cemetery. Usually, they are, Aaron said. There are a few regular visitors - one gentleman drives his car through the grounds daily, another woman comes to tend to her family's gravesite on a weekly basis. But still, it's pretty peaceful out there most days.

The gravestones change, almost by generation. The names of Farmington's earliest settlers can be found on the western side of the property, with stones dating back as late as the cemetery itself. Some stones have settled, some have sunk into the ground and need to be pulled up again.

But then there are some newer ones. One features a couple's wedding picture etched in the side. One tombstone takes the form of a large tree stump; another has a sundial attached.

Lots of trees provide shade out at the cemetery - many of those were donated by Butch Ames, who is also a Mason and a member of the cemetery board. Ames' parents are buried at Corinthian Cemetery, so he has made many donations to the cemetery over time. The heavy black fences around the cemetery, the tarred pathways throughout, benches and the caretaker's buildings are among those donations.

Final touches

Each of the stones provides just a little different challenge when it comes to mowing. Aaron has gotten used to the subtle nuances of each row, knowing how to maneuver his mower around.

"Some you can mow over, some you can't because you'll hit them with the blade. It's time consuming. It's not like just mowing your yard," Aaron said.

Every spring and summer, he and Buzz work together to pull up the gravestones that have sunk into the earth. It's not an easy task, because each stone has a little different base to it.

"Some of those stones are three feet deep or better. You don't know what you have until you start digging around them," Aaron said.

By Friday, the cemetery will be ready for decoration. On Friday morning, members of the Farmington VFW and American Legion will show up with flags and markers that will be placed on the graves of all of the community's veterans buried there. Buzz has a plot map that helps to identify where each of those veterans are buried. Aaron enjoys helping out with that project, too.

"They'll all get to talking and laughing. It's really interesting to listen to their stories. It's a history class in itself," Aaron said. "They'll talk like it was just yesterday, but it was 60 years ago."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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