KEARNEY — A wealthy widow. Card parties. Meticulously handwritten notes.

Such is the legacy of the 93-year-old Memorial Gates at the Kearney Cemetery.

Nearly a century ago, the Fort Kearney chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution raised $941 for the gates and had them erected on May 30, 1926, to beautify the cemetery entrance and honor the military veterans buried there.

In the last 93 years, the metal gates have rusted. A brick pillar is slightly tipped. The western gate is bent. “The ground underneath has tipped a bit, so the small gates on either end are gone,” Lynnda Shaffer, a DAR member for 34 years, said. “The gates are really deteriorating.”

This summer, DAR will renovate those gates, thanks to $22,000 that DAR raised through the Kearney Area Community Foundation’s Give Where You Live event last December.

It is a project of pride and patriotism that offers a peek into the past.

It started in 1924

The city couldn’t afford to beautify the cemetery entrance, so on March 7, 1924, DAR formed a committee to look into placing either fountains or gates there, according to handwritten minutes of that meeting that Shaffer keeps. The committee included Mrs. Clapp, Mrs. Wort, Mrs. Pickens and Mrs. Norton, the notebook says. No first names are given.

An entry written on May 16, 1914, states that the committee chairwoman (no name given) reported that “it was not advisable to put in a fountain for the present.” The entry said the committee consulted with a Mr. Hutchinson and liked the idea of the gate instead.

The first contributions quickly followed. On June 14, Mrs. C. O. Norton pledged $100, as did Mrs. Wort. Mrs. Norton’s full name was Charlotte “Lottie” Gove Norton. She was the most influential woman in Kearney at the time.

Cash from card parties

To raise money, the group held card parties, charging a fee to play. Minutes from Nov. 6, 1925, state that two bridge parties had raised $60 toward the Memorial Gate Fund.

Minutes from Feb. 5, 1926, say that a “benefit picture show” raised $63.12, including 60 cents that a member contributed separately. Also, the minutes state, each member was asked to earn and contribute a single dollar for the memorial.

March minutes show that $73.50 came in from another bridge party, and $102 was raised at a Washington Tea held at Mrs. Wort’s home.

By May 7, the minutes show, the committee reported that the gate itself would cost $640. Smaller gates on either side of that would cost $160 each. The chapter voted to order the side gates. The total project cost was $987.75, or, with a five percent discount, $941.95. At that time, the gateway fund had $917.09, so another benefit picture show was scheduled. It raised $26.95, bringing the grand total to $943.95, later minutes show.

Grand dedication

DAR’s handwritten minutes do not say exactly, down to the penny, how much those first gates cost. While the $941.95 may not seem high by modern standards — it’s far less than the $22,000 raised at Give Where You Live last December — the cemetery’s annual maintenance budget in 1927 was $3,000, Shaffer said.

The gates were installed on May 30, 1926. A picture shows iron “wings” standing 8 feet tall and 5 feet long, with smaller brick pillars standing 3 feet 8 inches high on either side.

The gates were dedicated at 4:30 p.m. March 21, 1927, during DAR’s 25th state conference at the old First Presbyterian Church. The Kearney Chamber of Commerce provided 40 cars to take DAR members from the church to Kearney Cemetery. The band played. A chaplain read a prayer. Lottie Norton spoke.

93 years of rain, snow

This summer, DAR will have the gates removed, sandblasted and painted. The hinges will be replaced. Design details and the cost still are being worked out.

DAR is proud to take on this project. Last year, the chapter purchased a pool table and accessories for the new Central Nebraska Veterans Home. “We wanted to do another project this year,” Shaffer said.

Cemetery Supervisor Steve Baye is delighted with DAR’s decision. “Restoring the gates to what they looked like when they were first installed will look great,” he said.

He said citizens and community groups have undertaken other cemetery projects and made the Kearney Cemetery the envy of many members of the Old Nebraska Cemetery Association, of which Baye is the secretary/treasurer. “They are amazed at what we do here. They do not have the support of the community and (city) administration that we have,” he said.

Baye said the cemetery gates will be closed overnight this weekend because so many flags will be flying, but there’s a caveat: “The gates do not fit correctly,” he said.

By this time next year, they will.

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