While Glenn Maynard “Mush” Ukkestad was working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in the mid 1950s, he was on the original survey crew during the construction of Highway 16 between Houston and Rushford.
As he came upon the old Oakwood Cemetery, which overlooks Hwy. 16 just before coming into Rushford, Ukkestad was inspired by the beautiful view.
Although the cemetery had long been forgotten and was tremendously overgrown and in shambles, Ukkestad could see the potential of bringing the land back to a useable cemetery.
He felt so passionate about the cemetery that he made it known to his family that he wanted to be buried there.
Ukkestad’s wishes began a six-year project which eventually brought Ukkestad to the final resting place he had chosen years before.
The cemetery, which is just under five acres in size, was dedicated as a cemetery by Charles D. Sherwood in 1870.
Sherwood first moved to Sumner Township in Fillmore County from Connecticut in the 1850s, and then to Rushford, where he bought a lot of land in the area. He was a farmer and also worked in the newspaper business.
He was elected to serve as Minnesota Lieutenant Governor in the 1863 election as a Republican and held that position in the midst of the Civil War.
According to the website www.leg.state.mu.us, Sherwood “was the Speaker of the House in 1863. He was born on November 18, 1833, and was speaker during the 1863 legislative session, making him the second youngest speaker at 29,” which is quite impressive.
Sherwood then decided to move to Tennessee, where he purchased more land, but before leaving Fillmore County he would deed the land for the cemetery. His sister is buried in the Sherwood family plot in the southwest corner of the cemetery.
He established a town, Sherwood, Tenn., in 1878, according to the website sherwoodtenn.com. The website states, “Sherwood Spring flows from the rocks on the west side of the town. C. D. Sherwood built his home on the hillside just south of the springs” in a very lovely location.
According to findagrave.com, Charles D. Sherwood was found floating in a lake in Chicago on July 3, 1895. He is buried in Illinois, which was the home of his second wife.
Since Sherwood left the Rushford area there are no records of burials in the cemetery. That does not mean burials did not occur — it is very possible burials took place without being recorded. “People thought it was only Sherwood family buried there but there were others buried there,” notes Beth LeFleur, Ukkestad’s daughter.
Upon learning of Ukkestad’s wish to be buried in the cemetery, a group of people, led by family members, began the long and difficult process of making it happen. Ukkestad passed away in 2012 and that same year the Oakwood (Sherwood) Cemetery Association was organized, spearheaded by Ukkestad’s widow, Rachel.
“We started by forming a board,” states LeFleur. The next step was getting approved by the Cemetery Association. They needed to be acknowledged by the City of Rushford or Fillmore County. “The county acknowledged us as a board,” says LeFleur.
A representative from the state suggested as there are so many cemeteries named Oakwood in the State of Minnesota that they change the name. So the original board members decided on the name Oakwood (Sherwood) Cemetery.
Then the true work began as the cemetery had been abandoned and neglected for many years.
“It was so incredibly overgrown,” explains LeFleur. There was a lot of work to be done to have the area resemble a cemetery once again.
Brush and bramble had to be cleared, neglected trees whose roots had heaved some of the stones needed to be taken down, along with others that were harvested.
Another obstacle the board came across was gaining access to the cemetery, as roads had been “interrupted and altered over the years,” notes LeFleur. Thankfully, after having surveying done, a neighboring landowner agreed to an easement to allow access to the cemetery.
“The interior roads were restored,” says LeFleur, which was a large task and “the grounds were groomed and grass was planted,” she states.
“Existing graves have been located and identified,” explains LeFleur, and a member of the group attended a workshop to learn how to properly restore gravestones which are in the process of being restored and reset. Last spring an impressive gate was installed at the entrance to the cemetery.
It took “a lot of time, money and physical labor,” says LeFleur, but on October 7, 2018, they were able to fulfill Ukkestad’s wish by laying him to rest in Oakwood (Sherwood) Cemetery high on a hill overlooking the beautiful Rushford valley.
“It was a very nice service,” says LeFleur as her father’s ashes were brought up the hill to the cemetery by a horse-drawn carriage driven by Tracy Hanson of Chatfield, Minn., and military rights were performed.
Although so much has been accomplished at the cemetery, there is still much work to be done. They are still cataloging graves and taking pictures and they want to restore cables that go through pillars and other restoration work.
A “Potter’s Field” is located in the southeast corner of the cemetery. “Potter’s Fields are referenced in the Bible. It is defined as a pauper’s grave, or common grave for the burial of unknown or indigent people,” explains LeFleur. “Our plans are to identify the area which may include placing a sign or marker, doing some plantings such as wildflowers or flowering trees,” she says.
Many people have been involved in the process and continue to dedicate time and labor, including Ukkestad’s son Carl, who provides and oversees the care of the grounds, which is vital.
If anyone would like to help or donate to the restoration process, a member of the board can be contacted. Current board members include President Elizabeth LeFleur, Vice president Rachel Ukkestad, Secretary Anne Spartz, Treasurer Jack O’Donnell, Directors Derek Berg, David Hinz and Steve Highum.
Ukkestad is surely watching over the cemetery, and those who are working to restore it, with appreciation as he rests in peace looking out over the valley that he loved so much.