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Something beautiful -- country cemetery tranquility

RURAL MCCANNA, N.D. -- Funny how things stay with you. The mere mention of McCanna summons the childhood memory of a trip my family took from our farm near Newburg, N.D., to the funeral of a relative on my dad's side. As we neared McCanna all tho...

RURAL MCCANNA, N.D. -- Funny how things stay with you.

The mere mention of McCanna summons the childhood memory of a trip my family took from our farm near Newburg, N.D., to the funeral of a relative on my dad's side.

As we neared McCanna all those years ago, we came upon a rickety old scary-to-a-kid bridge. My dad got out to scrutinize the splintered planks to make sure they wouldn't collapse under the weight of six people in a 1951 Chevrolet.

It didn't.

I saw no sign of such a bridge Monday as I curved around McCanna, but when I reached my destination a little north and west of here, I encountered something beautiful -- unadulterated countryside tranquility.


Close up to County Road 10 and nestled in a horseshoe-shaped array of oak, ash, basswood, elm and pine trees sits Elk Valley Lutheran Church. Forming a horseshoe profile of its own around the church is the cemetery.

I've never been here before, but I've had a fondness for Elk Valley ever since acquiring its green cookbook some years back.

A May tradition of mine is to visit a cemetery and then share with you my findings and feelings on Memorial Day weekend. This year it's Elk Valley, where Monday morning family and friends had gathered to lay to rest one of their own.

"The one who could answer the most questions was buried today," said Jean Hoverson, who spoke of Juel Smestad. Juel, who died in February at age 86, served as chairman of the cemetery board for more than 20 years.

The burial, with prayers spoken by the Rev. Renee MacLeod, had ended when I arrived, and it was coffee and goodie time in the church's dining room.

Avis Madson tells me Elk Valley has this motto: "Where two or more shall meet, we shall eat." The scrumptious mocha bar I had with coffee was made by Becky Froeber.

A white archway welcomes all to Elk Valley Church, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2006. Marcy Halstenson gave me a tour of the inside of this holy place, pointing out the signature of wood craftsman, Hans Kittelson, Larimore, N.D., engraved on the back of the altar he built in 1903.

Not long after Hans completed the altar, an oil painting of Jesus walking with two men on the road to Emmaus, created in 1898 by Minnie Martinson, Lake Park, Minn., was secured to the altar's front side. The canvas colors remain rich and vibrant.


I was captivated by the petite, ornate baptismal font the Ladies Aid purchased in the late 1890s for $24, and I loved it when Marcy pulled the rope in the balcony to let the bell peal across the plains.

In the quietness of the cemetery, I noticed buds on fern peonies. I heard birds singing their praises and breezes whistling through the pines.

Pastor Renee, with Helen Gohdes of Reynolds, N.D., and Lillian Purcell of Grand Forks, sisters of Juel Smestad, walked around the cemetery with us, as did Juel's sister-in-law, Dorothy Smestad. We stopped by Dorothy's husbands' grave, Elvin Smestad (1925-1999) who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

There are several veterans buried here. As I paused beside each of their graves, I couldn't help but offer a prayer of thanks to God for the service they gave to this great country:

n James Egbert (1919-1945), private first class with the 121st Cavalry in World War II.

n Olaf Nelson (1891-1966), with Company 164 of the infantry during World War I.

n Magnus Magnusson (1887-1972), a private in Company D of the 352nd Infantry during World War I.

n Lavere Anderson (1925-1982), who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.


n Oben Gunderson (1894-1982), in the U.S. Army during World War I.

n George Bang (1895-1975), a corporal in the U.S. Army also during World War I.

I was saddened to see so many graves of babies and young children.

Ruben Kyllo was born and died in 1901. Ethel Peterson was born and died in 1907. Edwin Peterson lived from 1894 to 1898. Elmer Kyllo lived from 1886 to 1887, and Andreas Michelsen from 1899 to 1900.

On the tombstone of 5-year-old Peter Pierson (1890-1895) were these words: "A little time on earth he spent till God for him His angel sent."

The Rev. Dr. Lars Dordal (1884-1943), who served Elk Valley from 1927 until his death, is buried here as is his wife, Clara (1899-1977).

We stopped at the graves of Caroline Vein (1901-1985) and her husband, Andrew Vein (1894-1981). They are the grandparents of Charlie, Jerry and Ken Vein, Grand Forks. The Vein boys' father, Gordon Vein (1926-1965), husband of Arlene Vein, Grand Forks, is buried here, as well as another brother, John (1950-2003).

Among other names I read were Hoverson, Rustebakke, Aarnes, Bjorge, Nabben and Kjemhus.

Time passed much too quickly, and just before driving away, I noticed something I had missed on my arrival: golden marigolds in full bloom on the grave of C. Donald Hanson (1921-1987).

It's not at all difficult for me to lose myself in a cemetery. Like the childhood memory above, this is another day to stay with me.

By the way: the color guard and firing squad from Fordville (N.D.) American Legion Post 274 will place a wreath on this cemetery's monument at 9 a.m. Monday. A Memorial Day program follows in Fordville at 11 a.m. with James Mozey, a member of Elk Valley Church as speaker. The women's auxiliary will serve a dinner following the program.

Reach Dunavan at (218) 773-9521 or send e-mail to naomiinthespirit@aol.com .

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