Audrey Love

“Just another day in paradise” has quite a different meaning for Sue Radford, an Enterprise resident with a personal investment in the restoration and recognition of those laid to rest in Paradise Cemetery. Radford and her group of voluntee rs, in partnership with Heritage Memorial and Restoration out of Walla Walla, Washington, spent three days restoring 17 dilapidated, century-old headstones in the cemetery, 40 miles north of Enterprise in the Paradise community.

“Through the years I’ve been thinking it would be nice if that project was done,” Radford said, “to bring (the cemetery) back to its natural beauty. I’m so happy that it’s (finally) happening.”

Years ago, Radford reached out to Heritage Memorial following their restoration work at Alder Slope, another historic cemetery in Wallowa County. However, a waiting list of other projects prevented Heritage from breaking ground on the Paradise project for a number of years. In the meantime, Radford did what she could to tidy the headstones herself, righting fallen stones and ensuring the cemetery was mowed every Memorial Day weekend — temporary fixes to a crumbling final resting place.

“Some of the veterans didn’ t even have (grave) markers, and my family always thought (that was) a shame,” she said. “When (some of) those people passed away (they) couldn’t afford headstones, so there was just a pile of rocks there.”

To remedy this, Radford commissioned Wallowa Arts to make 55 metal crosses for unmarked graves — such as those marked with rock piles — or to replace unreadable metal grave markers. Radford and others placed the crosses on Aug. 30.

Because of the cost, Radford originally planned to restore only a handful of headstones at a time. Through the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, however, Radford discovered the Historic Cemetery Grant — an effort on behalf of the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries to promote the upkeep and beautification of the state’s listed historic grave sites. In order to be considered a historic cemetery under state law, cemeteries must have at least one burial of a person who died before Feb. 14, 1909. Some of the earliest headstones in Paradise Cemetery date back to the mid-1890s.

Radford received $5,985 in grant money toward restoring, leveling and creating bases for the headstones, which Heritage Memorial completed on site July 20-22. Along with the construction portion of the restoration, she and other volunteers removed decades’-worth of stains and moss from headstones, landscaped overgrown portions of the cemetery and laid new dirt and gravel in certain locations. In addition, she matched the grant with another $6,485, which, per grant regulations, could be contributed through any combination of cash, donations and volunteer time.

While Radford received some donations, she shouldered a portion of the costs herself in conjunction with volunteer time and materials. Though the project is rooted in reverence to all who are buried there, it’s also personal. Many of her family members, including her parents and brother, are buried in Paradise Cemetery, and her great-great-grandparents owned the property the cemetery now sits on.

“(My mom) used to mow it and get it ready for Memorial weekend when I still (lived) at home, and I’d go up and help her,” Radford said. “(After she passed) I kind of felt like it was still my job, and I didn’t want to give up on it.”

Mowing the cemetery on Memorial Day weekend is a tradition the family continues to this day. Radford’s grandson, Jaylyn, now mows and also adopted the restoration initiative as part of an FFA project. The cemetery remained in Radford’s family until 2011, and though its new owners didn’t want to monetarily invest in the property’s upkeep, they encouraged Radford to continue her mission.

“I think it’s a worthwhile project. We’re just trying to pay respect and took it on as a public service,” she said. “I don’t want these people to be forgotten, and so I set forth to get (them) the respect they deserve. I just wanted to pay it forward.”