Gatekeepers' Ride Hopes to Benefit Vandalized Farmers Valley Cemetery

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HENDERSON, Neb. -- A group of friends is raising money and awareness to repair damage made to the Farmers Valley Cemetery near Henderson after more than 40 headstones were damaged or destroyed back in August.

Paxton resident Matt Bergen grew up in Henderson. A history buff, one of his favorite local spots was the Farmers Valley Cemetery.

"As a kid we hung out there a bunch, it's right on the river, it's just kind of a natural attraction to hang out down there it's so neat and lost of history there," said Bergen, who organized the Gatekeepers' Ride.

The cemetery is the resting place for Civil War veterans, politicians, and many others from the 1800s.

But a recent visit did not bring the same happiness from Bergen's childhood.

He said, "I actually visited the cemetery about a week after the damage happened and it just kind of gives you a sick feeling to see the damage that was done. Not living there anymore, you just want to do something to try to help out."

So Matt and 7 others made the 120 mile bike trip over 2 days to the cemetery, following the final ride of a person buried in the grounds.

"Marion Littlefield who was killed in an Indian Raid up by Burwell was hauled all the way down to Farmers Valley Cemetery to be buried. So we're kind of following the historic route," said Harry Eckerson, an Aurora resident who took part in the bike ride.

Part of the sentence for Robert Kelly, who pleaded guilty guilty in December to the vandalism, is he had to pay $10,000 in restitution, almost 1/3 of the cost to repair the 44 headstones.

The Gatekeepers' riders are raising money for a new fence, one that will match the historic time period much of the cemetery was created in.

"Ultimately they need about $12,000. We got an outfit that's willing to match what we raise and then I think possibly run it through a grant to where we could triple what we raise so we'd love to get as much as we can for what they need," said Bergen.

Eckerson added, "The people I've asked have been kicking in a few bucks here and there and I think we're probably getting close to $1,000 right now."

The riders arrived in Henderson at the cemetery just in time for the annual Memorial Day celebration.

Anyone interested in donating to the Gatekeepers' Ride or to the cemetery for other repairs, contact the Plainsman Museum at (402) 694 - 6531, or click the link to their website.