By Capi Lynn
Statesman Journal, 25 Oct 2007
Jean Hunsaker and son Ron stroll through the hillside cemetery that bears their family name, grasping for a story to tell of those interred.
They practically apologize for the absence of someone famous among names etched on the 68 headstones.
"To my knowledge, there's nothing special about any of them," Jean says. "I think they were just common, ordinary farm folks."
But Jean, I remind her, the pioneers who settled in the Oregon Territory were anything but common and ordinary.
They were courageous and hardy. Heck, it took them a week in a wagon train to cover the distance we do today in a car in just an hour.
The more I learn about our early settlers, after visiting and researching many of the pioneer cemeteries in Marion and Polk counties, the more I want to tell their stories. Too often, however, their stories are buried with them.
I bet someone at Hunsaker Cemetery was famous, in their time.
Maybe it was Joseph Hunsaker, who came here in 1847 with his wife, Elizabeth. He died in 1869, at the age of 70, and was memorialized in an article in the "Pacific Christian Advocate."
"As a neighbor, he was kind and obliging; as a citizen, peaceable and philanthropic; as a Christian, consistent but reserved."
Maybe it was his wife, who died five years before him. Elizabeth 's resting place is marked by a large headstone with a 14-line epitaph. The tablet broke some years ago and a few lines were lost in the repair, but family records preserve it in its entirety:
Wife of Joseph Hunsaker
which she remained to
her death. As a companion she was
kind and attentive, as a mother she
was tender and affectionate, as a
neighbor she was esteemed most by
those who knew her best; as a
Christian she was devotedly pious
and dearly manifesting to the last
that she had lain up her treasure
in heaven. She has gone to her reward
Reader, are you prepared to meet her?
There remaineth therefore a rest to the
people of God.
Joseph and Elizabeth lie near the middle of the cemetery, along with at least 11 other Hunsakers. Adams, Edger, Farlow and Robbins also are common names among the markers.
The cemetery is nestled on a hillside about eight miles southeast of Salem off Parrish Gap Road . It is surrounded by a chain-link fence, and large fir trees and roadside growth cloak it from passers-by.
Descendants care for the two-acre site, which until recently was owned by Marion County . The county foreclosed on the property in 1966, and later leased the cemetery at no cost to the family.
The late Morris Hunsaker -- Jean's husband and Ron's dad -- formed the Hunsaker Cemetery Corp. in 1992 and created a maintenance fund.
Ron, the great-great-great-grandson of Joseph Hunsaker, led the charge to regain ownership of the cemetery. Oregon law allows a nonprofit organization to request to take over a county-owned cemetery property, according to deputy surveyor Phil Jones.
The Jory family went through a similar process several years ago to regain custody of its cemetery.
This past August, after a public hearing, Marion County Commissioners agreed to vacate Hunsaker Cemetery . The Hunsaker Cemetery Corp. paid a $1,000 fee to the county clerk's office to cover costs of the transfer.
Ron Hunsaker said nothing has really changed, except on paper.
There has been a whisper about re-opening the cemetery for future burials. Neighbors have made inquiries, and there appears to be plenty of space.
"It's hard enough just to maintain it," Ron said. "I'd kind of like to maintain the historical aspect."