Bill Hediger was worried a street-widening project in a growing part of northwest Oklahoma City would disturb the 109-year-old cemetery his family has tended for decades.
Tucked behind rows of cedar trees inside a barbed wire fence, Hediger Lutheran Cemetery is just west of N May Avenue on the south side of NW 150.
Hediger, 73, of Edmond, took over the mowing and upkeep of the cemetery from his father, Hans Hediger, who died in 1999.
He remembers being at the cemetery in the 1940s when his grandfather, Traugott Hediger, used a push mower around the graves. Cows frequently broke down the barbed wire fence and tipped over headstones, he said. The men and boys would have to upright the stones.
“This used to be the country,” Bill Hediger said.
Now a $2.9 million project to widen NW 150 from two to four lanes is underway, but the work won't unsettle the cemetery.
A note on the project plans clearly states, “Do not disturb cemetery,” a city spokeswoman said.
There is just enough room to widen without disturbing the graves.
The project will add a sidewalk along the west side of the cemetery, officials said. The barbed wire fence will remain intact as work surrounds the grounds and cars whiz by.
Debbie Miller, assistant city engineer for Oklahoma City, said the improvements should make the area look better.
“It should look nice and clean through there,” Miller said.
The state Transportation Department is paying 80 percent of the project cost, and the plans have been through environmental concern surveys. The widening of NW 150 is expected to improve traffic flow to State Highway 74, which also is N Portland Avenue.
The headstone on Fred J. Albrecht's grave reads, “To know him was to love him.” It's been there since he died in 1973.
John Bierschenk was buried there in 1923. “We Shall Meet Again,” his headstone reads.
A cherub is engraved on the headstone of G.F. Keefer, 1899-1917.
A granite marker is erected for Ernestine Eckert, who died in 1916, and John Eckert, who died in 1919.
Bill Hediger's great-grandfather, the Rev. Jacob Hediger, was a Lutheran minister and missionary who moved from Nebraska to start the small cemetery. Rev. Hediger had plans to build a church, but died before he could build it and he is buried in the cemetery.
Hans Hediger, who served in the U.S. Army in World War II and died in 1999, is the last one to be buried at the two-acre cemetery. Today, it is surrounded by housing additions, schools, churches and the road that continues to expand.
There are not too many small cemeteries that remain in the Oklahoma City limits, said Tom Demuth, owner of Demuth Funeral Home. Small cemeteries have historical significance and are important final resting places of loved ones, he said.
Demuth said he found the oldest grave at the Hediger cemetery is that of Lena D. Slahn, 1907. He's helped Bill Hediger research the known burial plots there of 23 adults and 12 children. There is a plot of sandstone markers, too, with no words left on the markers. The names of the Winter family graves may have been etched on the stones once, but have eroded in the wind.
Demuth said family members still visit the graves. He said the cemetery was owned by the Peace Lutheran Church in Edmond for many years before the land was sold to a developer who kept the cemetery in place. There are no plans to move it.
Bill Hediger has done a good job taking care of the cemetery, Demuth said, and hoped he would be buried here too one day.
“Bill's been out here mowing out of the goodness of his heart,” Demuth said. “If he didn't do this, it would be an overgrown mess.”