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Local volunteers take part in statewide cemetery cleanup day on sunny Saturday morning.

PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Volunteers pull weeds, and scrape off moss from graves at the Gresham Pioneer Cemetery on Saturday, May 11. While others were preparing to recreate on a prematurely summery Saturday morning, Gresham resident Nancy Wilson was removing moss from headstones at the Gresham Pioneer Cemetery.

"I just find cemeteries fascinating," Wilson said. "It is an honor to clean them up."

She was one of many East Multnomah County volunteers who spent Saturday, May 11, picking up litter, pruning and cleaning gravemarkers at six cemeteries in Gresham, Troutdale and Corbett in anticipation of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, May 27.

The volunteers were part of the Solve Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries statewide day of service.

One of the first volunteers to arrive at the cemetery for the cleanup day, Wilson was soon joined by Mt. Hood Community College student Zandrea Collins.

Collins, who is in her first year of a natural resources technology program, said she is driven by environmental and historical protection issues. She wore a T-shirt to the event stating "Save the bees."

This is one of several ways she finds to pitch in around the community. PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Gresham resident Nancy wilson cleans a grave at the Pioneer Cemetery.

"If we don't start helping out now, there will be nothing left for future generations," she said.

One headstone's story

The cemeteries are filled with interesting former residents, and the stories of those buried highlight the region's history.

A longtime mystery about a resident buried in the Gresham Pioneer Cemetery concerns the final resting place of prominent Japanese-American Gresham resident Miyo Iwakoshi. She was the matriarch of the first Japanese family to settle in Oregon.PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Mt. Hood Community College student Zandrea Collins spruces up a grave during the Solve Historic clean-up day on Saturday morning.

Iwakoshi died in 1931 at 79 years old, and because of the anti-Japanese sentiment at the time, many didn't want her interred at the Pioneer Cemetery. There was a push to have her buried instead at the White Birch cemetery — a site reserved for the poor.

But a deal must have been struck, as she was buried next to her husband Andrew MacKinnon (born in Scotland) in the Pioneer Cemetery. Her grave, however, lacked an official marking, according to records from the Gresham Historical Society.

Researchers eventually realized a Japanese cedar tree growing over MacKinnon's headstone was used to signify her grave. What solved the mystery was the tree matched the timing of her death.

In 1988, Henry Kato, the Japanese-American Citizens League and several others donated a granite marker for Iwakoshi and planted Japanese maples nearby in her honor.  PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Barlow High School student Arista Sather cleans up a grave at at Mountain View Cemetery in Troutdale.

Respecting the fallen

Also for the statewide day of service, three Barlow High School students spent the morning cleaning moss and edging headstones with butter knifes at Mountain View Cemetery. The dull knives were given to volunteers to avoid scratching the headstones.

The cemetery is a .75-acre parcel tucked away in a neighborhood near Mt. Hood Community College.

The students, Arista Sather, 16; Emily Eggers, 16; and Tatum Wallace, 15, expected they would spend the day picking up trash, but found the site free of garbage, so they ended up scouring headstones instead.

Sather is a National Honor Society Member who volunteers in her community for the organization. She finds ways to spend her volunteer time outdoors, and for this endeavor she recruited her two friends to help out.

"This was a good way to work outside and help veterans and their relatives," Sather said.

Taking time to clean the headstones, she noted, gave her time to reflect on the importance of the task she was undertaking. She believes relatives of those who are buried will appreciate gleaming grave markers.

"That's kind of important," Sather said. "It makes you feel special and good that someone took their time to make sure that their (family member's) grave was clean."PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Japanese-American Gresham resident Miyo Iwakoshi didnt have a headstone place on her gravesite until 57 years after her death.

Contact Gresham Outlook Reporter Matt DeBow at 503-492-5115, or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About East Multnomah County's historic cemeteries

  • Gresham Pioneer Cemetery, 200 S.W. Walters Drive, was established in 1851 on land owned by I. I. and Sarah Moore. Miyo Iwakoshi, the first Japanese immigrant to live in Oregon is buried in the site.

  • Gresham Pioneer Cemetery is adjacent to Escobar Cemetary. One of the smallest, at only half an acre, it's named for Frank Escobar, who arrived in Gresham around 1902.

  • White Birch Cemetery, 185 S.W. Walters Drive. The White Birch was put on land purchased in 1889 for $10 by Sarah E. Harrison Stone. She cared for the grounds by forming a cemetery association and deeding the property. 

  • Mountain View Corbett Cemetery, 35450 S.E. Smith Road, a rural two-acre plot that occupies a small grassy rise surrounded by vegetable farms, vineyards and orchards.

    n Douglass Cemetery, 1300 S. Troutdale Road, Troutdale, was established in 1866. John Douglass was an early pioneer and shipbuilder.

  • Pleasant Home Cemetery, Southeast Bluff Road and Pleasant Home Road

  • Archon Kelly established the cemetery in 1884. His descendants are buried here.

  • Mountain View Stark Cemetery, 25851 S.E. Stark St., was established by Ambrose, James and Laura Menzies in 1886.

  • Stark Street is a historic market road that connected pioneer farmers in East Multnomah County to Portland, where they crossed into town via the Stark Street Ferry.

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