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Wanted: New cemetery caretaker

Walter Fryman of Desloge is deeply connected to the Underwood Cemetery, located outside of Fredericktown off Route W and Madison County Road 208. For the last 20 years he has maintained the cemetery where three generations of his family are buried.

“My great-grandparents, my grandparents and my dad are buried there,” Fryman said. “My dad was buried there in 1940. I was just 10 months old.”

Also buried in the cemetery are at least two Civil War veterans, Washington Underwood and Fielding R. Combs, who fought for the Union at the battle of Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob.

When Fryman’s grandfather, Jerry Lee Fryman, was alive and living in Flat River he was partnered with Don Phelps of Fredericktown in maintaining the cemetery. Jerry would collect donations to fund the cemetery’s maintenance, and in the 1970s, he asked his grandson to take over for him.

Jerry gave his grandson a list of people who had supported the cemetery, and Walter began visiting the names on the list to ask for contributions as his grandfather had. He said it was difficult to obtain donations to cover the cost of maintenance.

“I remember one lady,” Fryman said. “I went to see her — she lived over in Esther somewhere. I told her who I was and what I wanted, and she said, ‘Oh yeah, honey, come in.’ And she went inside and got a little old chain purse and she dug around in that until she finally come up with two dollars. And there were several like that, but she sticks out.”

Fryman said it seemed like a waste of time to canvass neighborhoods asking for donations, so he started covering the cost himself, which he still does with help from his brother, Paul Fryman, Jr. of Texas. In 1992, Phelps asked Fryman to take over full responsibility of maintaining the cemetery. Phelps gave Fryman the money that had been put toward the cemetery, amounting to between $250 and $300.

“I went down there and the fence was broken down,” Fryman said. “And the cattle was getting in through the fence. The road — you couldn’t get up there. So I, with the help of my stepdad and some friends, we put a new fence in and redid the road, had it graded.”

After repairing the road and fence, Fryman said the responsibility mostly came to mowing the cemetery when needed. At the gate of the cemetery, Fryman left a letter for visitors explaining the maintenance that had been done and how anyone who wished to make a donation could go about doing so, but he didn’t get much of a reply.

“I had one man from Tennessee, I believe, that sent me $20 and a letter that said it was the best he’d seen the cemetery,” Fryman said. “He was coming through and had some family buried there.”

In addition to his own contributions, Fryman said he did receive substantial help from Horton-Wampler Funeral Home in Park Hills, as well as his brother, Paul.

“But now, the place is growed-up and the fence is not good anymore,” Fryman said. “And I’ll soon be 78 years old, and I just can’t do much. I used to come down and mow it myself, up until 2010 or so. I’d come down and have a guy come with me and I’d mow it myself, but I got to where I’d just send him. And it’s gotten to where to be preserved, it needs some attention.”

Fryman said the cemetery is located on a farm owned by Richard Menteer, who Fryman said has also assisted with the mowing of the cemetery. While he’s not sure exactly how old the cemetery is, there are individuals buried there who died in the 1800s. For Fryman, the cemetery has been there as long as he can remember, since his great-grandparents had a farm nearby.

“When I was coming up as a kid, every Memorial Day weekend, there’d be a big crowd gathered there at my great-grandma and grandpa’s and we’ve have a big dinner, then everybody’d go up and clean the cemetery off,” Fryman said. “And that old road back that went to it went up through my great-grandpa’s place. But you couldn’t get a hearse up there. I can remember them, when they’d get there with a body, they’d have to put it on a horse and wagon to cross the creek down there, and that’s how they’d get up to it.”

Fryman said his grandfather and others obtained a right-of-way through the farm now owned by Menteer and built a road up to the cemetery. He said he was too little to be of much help, but he remembers being there when the road was being built.

While he’s only been officially maintaining the cemetery on his own for 20 years or so, the plot has been a part of his life and the lives of his family members for more than a century. Now, Fryman said, the time has come to pass along the responsibility.

“I’ve got to the point that I’m just not going to be able to do it,” Fryman said. “And I’d just like to see that somebody would get involved with the thing and see that it’s taken care of.”

While the cemetery was once mowed several times a year, Fryman said he now just makes sure it gets mowed before Memorial Day. The responsibility would mostly be to make sure that the place is kept clean and usable. He would like to find someone before Memorial Day this year.

Anyone who is interested in continuing the lifelong work of Fryman and his family to preserve the Underwood Cemetery can contact him at 573-760-2215.

Walter Fryman stands in the Underwood Cemetery outside of Fredericktown on March 23. For more than 20 years, Fryman has maintained the cemetery where three generations of his family rest.

Walter Fryman stands in the Underwood Cemetery outside of Fredericktown on March 23. For more than 20 years, Fryman has maintained the cemetery where three generations of his family rest.

Jacob Scott is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at

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