Rural Tiskilwa cemetery's appearance improves, thanks to Gerber family
TISKILWA – Cecille Gerber of Tiskilwa, along with her relatives, embarked on a family project this past summer to help honor their ancestors’ resting place.
The Old St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, at the corner of the Wyanet-Walnut Blacktop and 1000 North Avenue, north of the unincorporated area of Providence, is getting a facelift.
It’s a small plot of land. Many of the 19th-century monuments are crumbling or falling over. But nonetheless, it’s importance to Gerber and her family.
About eight years ago, Gerber was connected with her distant cousin, Cynthia Steimle of Davis, California, who was doing research at the Bureau County Genealogical Society in Princeton.
Sharing the same interest in history and genealogy, the two eventually hatched the idea to make a cemetery sign for the final resting place of their great-great grandmother, Akada Nook Steimle, who was buried in 1879 at the Old. St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery.
After looking into what could be done to help “spruce up” the land, Gerber reached out to her brother, Dave, and their cousins around the country to see if there was any interest in chipping in money to help cover the cost of needed improvements.
Of course, the relatives were on board, and with the pool of money, they’ve been able to erect a new sign for the cemetery, restain the steps leading up the hill into the plot of land, and plant shrubs and flowers that will bloom in the summer and create a more welcoming look to visitors.
Over the past summer, Gerber researched the old cemetery and was given permission to make the improvements, while Steimle hand-carved the new sign.
Rick McCauley of Tiskilwa designed the manner of presentation of the sign and installed it at the front end of the cemetery. Jennifer Fisher of Tiskilwa helped with the planting of flowers and shrubs, staining of steps and other tasks.
While many grave monuments still need repaired, Gerber has not yet made plans to move forward with that part of the project. With the uncertainty of what it would take to restore the pieces, she’s hopeful a community group would be willing to volunteer their services.
While the project has taken time and money, to Gerber and her family, every penny and minute has been worth it.
“If great-great grandmother would not have come over, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” she said.
“If this is her final resting place, we want it to be nice.”
Cemetery and family history
The first burial on the land was in 1861, but the cemetery wasn’t established until three years later. In 1873, the New St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery was established, most likely because it was decided more land would be needed for burial grounds.
Gerber’s great-great grandmother left her home in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1862, following the death of her husband, Georg. She sold their land interests in the Black Forest, tied six bags of gold around her waist, and sailed for America with her five sons and three daughters: Georg, Wilhelm, Phillip, Joseph, Bernhard, Mary, Helen and Cunnegunda.
Since a war was brewing between Denmark and Prussia, some stories suggest Akada was afraid her sons would be drafted into a petty argument between rulers.
Gerber said, “She apparently ruled the roost, and said, ‘Wir gehen!’ (we go!)”
They settled in the Providence area, where Akada bought farmland for her sons and expected her daughters to find husbands.
Most of Akada’s offspring spent their entire lives in Bureau, Stark and Henry counties.
Gerber said, “One of Akada’s descendants, Margaret Steimle Hunter, said she could remember her elderly aunt, Mary Fuerer, complaining, ‘Dat old Georg (her brother). He got all dat geld.’”