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After 35 years of mowing, local couple still takes pride in maintaining historic cemetery

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - From time to time, you will see Carl Bartruff and his wife Patricia riding lawn mowers and mowing the five acres of grass at Union Schoolhouse Cemetery located along Northwest 143rd Avenue in Cedar Mill. The original caretaker of the cemetery, George Foege, asked Carl to take over mowing the lawn 35 years ago.As the afternoon sun beams down on the sloping, grassy expanse near Sunset High School on one of the hottest days of the year, a steady breeze cools things down considerably from the scorching concrete and asphalt barely 100 yards away.

“It’s always cooler by about 10 degrees up here,” Carl Bartruff says of the Union Cemetery of Cedar Mill.

Hidden from nearby thoroughfares by towering fir and cedar trees and a ring of middle-class homes, the serene and scenic burial ground off Southwest 143rd Avenue is the final resting place for some of Beaverton’s founding families. Named for the former Union Schoolhouse that sat on the property’s eastern end at least until the late 1940s, the cemetery stands as a little-known window to the area’s past.

“The roads around here are named after people buried here,” Bartruff notes. “They’re all settlers.”

Three decades is a drop in the bucket for a 155-year-old cemetery, but if the 35 years Bartruff and his wife, Patty, have invested in maintaining the historic grounds are any indication, the couple just may have grown to like the old place.

The Bartruffs have no family members buried there, but the 48-year residents of the Terra Linda neighborhood do their best to make the 5-acre site, which marks its 155th anniversary this year, look as timelessly inviting as possible.

Carl admits he fell into his grass-cutting and landscaping role first through his own largesse, then by default. George Foege, a Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue founder and Bartruff’s neighbor near the old Peterkort farm property off Barnes Road for 34 years, eventually grew tired of the mowing duties he’d taken on.

“He’d turned 85,” Bartruff says of the late Foege, who now has a park named for him off of Cedar Hills Boulevard. “He said, ‘Will you help me mow this?’”

For the man Bartruff considered his “greatest mentor,” there was no way to say “no.” Of course, he had no idea that the occasional favor would turn into a 35-year devotion to a manicured memorial lawn. Running out of options after several years of looking for help, Bartruff gradually took on a quasi-ownership role of the nonprofit, private cemetery.

“We tried to give it to the state, the city of Beaverton, Washington County, but no one wanted it,” he says. “Everyone on the board of directors was in their 80s and couldn’t go any longer.”

Bartruff essentially hand-picked the cemetery’s nine-member board of trustees.

“They all have families (buried) in here,” he says. “I decided I’m gonna stay here too.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Carl Bartruff finally has a dependable volunteer in Beverly Plack of Oak Hills to help him take care of the Union Schoolhouse Cemetery.

A place to gather

Officially incorporated in 1903 as Union Schoolhouse Cemetery, the property has more or less served its current role since April 1958. That’s when Francis and Arvilla McGuire donated land on what is now 143rd Avenue for a burial ground and “Meeting House,” according to an historical essay Beverly Plack wrote in June for the Cedar Mill News.

The house served triple duty for years as what became Cedar Mill Grade School, church and multi-purpose gathering place for the community, whose founders’ names were etched in the nearby grave stones: Young. Walker. Findley. Barnes. Leahy. Saltzman. Stoller. Located under a stunningly expansive oak tree in the middle of the grounds, the cemetery’s oldest stone bears the inscription of “Hall,” whose name graces a busy Central Beaverton thoroughfare.

Plack, who works as a nurse at Salem Hospital, learned about the cemetery through the Find a Grave website. Popular among genealogists and amateur historians, the online resource helps family members locate graves of lost relatives. Plack was taken by the collection of area settlers — including many of German, Swedish and Irish descent — and the gracefully written epitaphs on their stones: “Having finished life’s duty, she now sweetly rests.” “Here rests a Woodsman of the World.” “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone but me,” the refrain from a popular big band tune during World War II.

“It started as a hobby,” she says. “Then I saw (Union) cemetery needed some work.”

Plack pitched in to help the Bartruffs and cemetery trustees Mary Young and Phyllis Thorne, the board’s former longtime secretary, to spruce up the grounds before Memorial Day in late May. While Patty and Carl kept busy on their riding lawnmowers, Plack and Young cleaned the edges of veterans’ graves. As she has for the past 18 years, Thorne placed U.S. flags to honor those who fought for their country.by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Carl Bartruff and Beverly Plack spend time maintaining the Union Schoolhouse Cemetery in Cedar Mill.

‘Just part of growing up’

Living most of her life within a mile or two of the cemetery, Thorne, 87, said visiting the Union grounds as a child was as natural as going to church, or school, which she started at the same site.

“As a child, we’d put flowers on great-grandpa’s grave,” she says. “It was just a part of growing up for us.”

She recalls her eighth-grade graduation in a combined class with the Union School and the nearby Cedar Mill Elementary.

“I went to Cedar Mill Elementary,” she says. “There weren’t enough graduates at Cedar Mill, so it joined with Union. We had a few more people and a bigger place to attend.”

The schoolhouse — in one physical form or another — and cemetery co-existed from approximately 1856 to 1949, when the school merged with six others in what would become the Beaverton School District. At some point around the mid-20th century, Washington County granted the land for the cemetery’s use. Since 1974, the cemetery’s operated under an “endowment care” status, in which plots are sold with the understanding that the site will be maintained with no additional cost.

On the rare occasions when she makes it to the cemetery, Thorne appreciates the large, wood-carved benches that sit beneath one of the grounds’ few fully shaded areas. Local resident Tony Eames built and donated the benches this year as part of his Eagle Scout project.

“The benches are so sturdy and so beautifully finished,” Thorne said. “That really makes a difference.”

Rolling with the mow

With Patty, his wife of 50 years, Bartruff carved out a modest but steady living with Bartruff Contractors, a self-described “mom and pop business” that provided painting, roofing, plumbing and other home maintenance services. Most of his work these days involves keeping up the cemetery.

While he’s not had much luck finding dependable stand-ins to take over the role, Bartruff is at least starting to consider passing along the mowing torch to the younger demographic.

“I have a couple people in mind, but I haven’t said anything to anybody yet,” he says, noting Harry Schneider, his “Man Friday,” often chips in to make the 16-hour mowing jobs less onerous. “I have no plans to quit.

“I just like to keep it looking as nice as I can. As long as my wife can be with me, I’m willing to do it.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Carl Bartruff walks by the headstone of Mary and Joshua Hall at the Union Schoolhouse Cemetery as he points out the graves of area settlers.

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