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DATE: December 16, 2004

Student digs history! After taking "Graveyards 101" at UM-Dearborn, she began group dedicated to preserving historic cemetery in Huron Township

DEARBORN---A classroom assignment at the University of Michigan-Dearborn has led a student to launch an effort to preserve and maintain an old cemetery in Huron Township, in the southwestern part of Wayne County.

Jennifer Cerasuolo was one of the approximately 60 students and community members who took part in a one-credit seminar series nicknamed "Graveyards 101" at UM-Dearborn last summer.

The course was actually planned as a series of lectures to offer "entertainment and education for the public," according to political science Prof. Ronald Stockton who organized the series.

In addition, UM-Dearborn students were allowed to register and receive one credit hour for attending the lectures, completing readings and writing a paper based on information found in local graveyards.

Cerasuolo's project, analyzing five to seven tombstones in the Huron Township Cemetery, has led her to organize a group, supported by a Web site, with the mission of "making sure all cemeteries get the respect and care they deserve."

"For my project I chose a cemetery that was close to my heart, and I had recently had learned I had ancestors buried in there," Cerasuolo said. The Huron Township cemetery is in New Boston, surrounded by the Willow Metropark.

Cerasuolo first became familiar with the cemetery when she and classmates would go there to play hooky in high school. "We stumbled on a peaceful place to get way from a crazy school and family lives, and found a small area with graves that were around longer than Michigan was a state," she said.

In her visits to the cemetery for the seminar, Cerasuolo found markers for people who died in the early decades of the 19th century, as well as some markers for families who were ancestors of girls who had gone to school with her.

But the condition of the cemetery disappointed her. "When I returned to the cemetery for the first time in 12 years, it looked terrible!" she said. She felt strongly enough to start a group called the 'Huron Crusaders' which is dedicated to preserving history through cemeteries.

"If a cemetery is not cleaned up, we get on the people to get the job done!" she said. In their work, the group discovered that there are state regulations regarding cemetery maintenance, and through their Web site they are connecting with other people and resources around the country.

"We use topographic maps as resources to find abandoned cemeteries, as well as active ones," she said. The group also has a cross-country Web-based discussion group (http://www.msnusers.com/savehuron) with more than 70 members who share information about significant cemeteries as well as ones in disrepair.

The UM-Dearborn seminar series was so popular with both students and community members that Stockton is planning to develop a new series of lectures likely to be offered next May.

"Without this class, I never would have been compelled to do this, and I have made so many people happy in the process," Cerasuolo said. "What a good feeling! Compassion for our dead is just as important as it is for the living."

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