Dr. Bill Atwood

Celebrating our local history

There is an old adage that history is not the dead past of the living but rather the living past of the dead. We love to study history because it tells us who we are because of the people that came before us. The settlers that created Fresno Flats, who oversaw it developing into a town, then changed the name to Oakhurst and those who started the first commerce are all gone. They’re all dead now. Many died here and are buried locally. Some on private ranches, some in places no longer marked or known, some moved away before they died and are buried in different towns and many are buried in the center of Oakhurst at the Oakhurst Cemetery.

The chapel that sits in the cemetery was brought there by the Oakhurst Grandmothers Club during the middle years of the last century. It had been the first church in the area and in the 1950s the congregation disbanded leaving the church abandoned. The Grandmothers saved the day and the Little Church Foundation raised the money and had it restored and we all get to enjoy it. This past Memorial Day, the church was packed full as people followed the service led by Anglican Priest Reverend Gordon Kamai. It is fitting he led the service as the first people to use that building were part of the Anglican Communion that spans the globe. Fr. D.O. Kelly led that first service and it was named Christ Church. Hence the local Anglican’s still use that name.

This Saturday, the community is invited to visit the cemetery to celebrate the 125th anniversary of its inception. It seems strange to invite folks to a cemetery for a celebration but then again, why not? As you wander through the cemetery and look at the headstones you are able to garner a great deal about the dear departed person who is buried six feet below your feet.

Historians see cemeteries not as places of gloom but also as places of “source material” for historical studies. Many of us have heard the story of “living the dash” which speaks to the fact that the birth dates and dates of death are usually listed and that the hyphen, or dash, really represent the entirety of a person’s life. That dash is what is the interesting part of the person’s life.

Once you know the year of the birth, you can begin to fill in the pieces through census records, land deeds, Baptismal records, wedding dates, and other documents that are not very difficult to find. Teacher Bill Coate of Madera and I had students doing authentic research and writing books about local historic figures and we always started at the grave with the information from the headstone.

This gem of our community in the heart of town also serves to remind people that we respect the people buried there. It isn’t hidden away and the place is never in disrepair. It shows that we treasure the gifts they gave to this area and the impact they had on Eastern Madera County.

Come and hear about the first person buried there. Ask me about my friend Lee Adelsbach who is probably the latest soul to be buried the as his service will be tomorrow, the day before the celebration of the cemetery. Lee will be a reminder of the gifts that many who live here quietly make living here a better experience.

Come to the center of town on Saturday and celebrate with your neighbors the final resting place for our fore bears that cherished here as we do.