By Sunny Morton
From the Kirtland Gazette
Thousands of visitors wander through the Kirtland North Cemetery every year. Many are just passing through, tourists from the Kirtland Temple or Historic Kirtland, but often those who stroll among the tombstones are looking for names of ancestors or friends. In the past, this was easier said than done. Older grave markers are difficult to read, and of course, the interred aren't in alphabetical order, but thanks to Joseph Packer, it just got easier to find someone at the Kirtland North Cemetery.
Young Joseph, a sophomore at Kirtland High School, has grown up near the Kirtland North Cemetery. His parents, Kent and Mini Packer, moved to Kirtland thirteen years ago, when his father Kent transferred to Avery Dennison in Northeast Ohio.
As a Boy Scout with local Troop 885 with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Joseph and his parents began looking for a service project that would qualify him for the rank of Eagle Scout. Inspiration finally hit when they went on vacation to Whitney, Idaho, of all places.
"I was visiting relatives in Idaho and we visited a cemetery where one of my distant relatives is buried," remembers Joseph. "We saw how they had a map with all the names and where the graves were located and stuff." He was also struck by how smalt the cemetery was, compared to the Kirtland North Cemetery back home: "The Whitney cemetery has only 100 years of history, but ours is like 200!" When Joseph's father suggested he make a similar map for his hometown cemetery as his Eagle project, Joseph agreed.
The Kirtland North Cemetery has been,in use since 1827, though it wasn't officially founded until 1830. Over 600 people are buried there, "My project was a directory at the cemetery," Joseph explains: "It has all the known burials and where they're buried, a map and some have birth and death dates. There are coordinates on the map and the map shows where they are buried," he said.
In addition, Joseph created a simple,searchable database,that will be given to the City of Kirtland. "This database will become a basis for future corrections and inputting for more deceased," explains Joseph. "Now it's visible for everyone to see [in printed form] so people can make corrections if they want to."
Kent now admits that Joseph was a little young to tackle such an ambitious project. He was only thirteen when he first started the process. "I didn't realize how hard it would be," said Joseph, "I just about gave it up and was going to do a different project. My dad told me to stick with it."
"It was very frustrating at times," said Kent. "The hardest part, for me, was to not take over and finish it... to sit back and let it drift, and let him grow into the project, but I just knew what a neat project and experience it would be."
The enterprise stalled after design delays and administrative issues dampened Joseph's enthusiasm, but a few months ago, just shy of his sixteenth birthday, he picked the project up again. As an older teenager, this time he showed the leadership and determination required,to see the project through.
Part of the point of an Eagle Scout project is to show leadership. For Joseph, learning to direct the work of others being organized, giving instructions and following through was a challenge. "I think it's probably one of the hardest things he's done," said Kent. "He's been in a lot of things where others were in charge, so, to be in charge was good for him." In the end, Joseph's own work and donated labor totaled 250 - 300 hours.
"This was a very complex project and as a result 1 think he's learned a lot," summarizes Kent. "He's learned that things aren't as simple and straightforward as they look. Something worth doing doesn't always come really easily."
"This project helped me learn to stick with it, no matter how hard it is," reflects Joseph. How does it feel to look at the completed sign? "Accomplished. Relieved at having finished it!" Joseph said.
Both Joseph and Kent would like to see future improvements to Joseph's sign and,database. "It's a start rather than a finish," said Kent. But this project "can be changed, upgraded, or improved without it costing a fortune or throwing it away. It will last for many years, but it will be updated and upgraded before it ever wears out." In fact, others have already begun submitting changes.
The Packers hope this cemetery map will provide a model for other cemeteries in the area. "It's so simple that it can be done with minimal expense," concludes Kent. What improvements would they like to see? "The sign has already become the focal point of the cemetery," is the answer. "The next project should ~ be putting some flagstones down because they're going to wear out the grass pretty soon!"