BRIDGEPORT — Earlier this month, the final stone was placed at the front of Oregon Trail Memorial Cemetery, marking the completion of a Bridgeport woman’s dream to honor the veterans of her community.
Hazel Kleich was the driving force behind the memorial which is made up of stones engraved with the names of veterans buried in the cemetery. She visited memorials across the state to come up with ideas for the one she wanted to build in Bridgeport, Kathy Brandt, cemetery board member, said.
“She was very adamant about honoring our veterans,” Brandt told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald. “That woman was a worker. She worked day and night getting the names.”
She cared deeply for the cemetery and those resting there, and spent time taking care of the grounds. Even as she aged, Brandt said, they’d catch her out there trimming trees.
“Hazel could pinpoint any grave here,” said Brandt.
Kleich died in 2017 at the age of 91, but the efforts behind the memorial weren’t slowed.
Board president Don Landrigan said it was paid for with donations, as well as cemetery funds.
“We sat aside money in our budget every year,” he said.
Recently, a storm tore through the cemetery. Although it caused no damage to the pieces of the memorial already in place, it wreaked havoc on the cemetery’s trees.
“It was a disaster zone,” said Landrigan.
A number of volunteers showed up, some with equipment, to help clean up. One of them, Paul Hoxworth, ended up being recruited to the board.
“He just did such a good job helping us,” laughed Brandt.
Other board members include Treasurer Mary Pohl, Charlotte Brown, Todd and Carrie Harless, June Brown and Dean Rahmig.
Hoxworth and other volunteers guided the stones into their final place, assisted by R&C Crane’s Curt Carlson and Bryon Wilson of Herstead Monument Company.
A dedication ceremony was held June 14.
On the stones, veterans are listed by the date of their death, going in five-year increments. With the exception of those from early conflicts such as the Civil War, each name is followed by their branch of service.
Brandt said the board went through cemetery records and obituaries as far back as they could in an effort to confirm branches, name spellings and make sure they didn’t miss anyone.
The stones are arranged in a star shape, surrounding another that is taller and thinner. Each side is etched with something — one, in honor of Hazel Kleich. It acknowledges that without her, there would be no memorial.
“Through her tenacity,” it says, “She has led the way to make the dream of honoring veterans a reality for all.”
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