Bringing local history to life

Meghan Flynn
A group of patrons make their way to the next re-enactor Friday through a portion of Valley View Cemetery during one of the Finney County Historical Society's annual Historic Walking Tour of the cemetery.

The second week of October has come and gone and along with it the seventh annual Cemetery Walking Tours put on in partnership by the Finney County Historical Society & Museum and Valley View Cemetery.

Steve Quakenbush, executive director of the Finney Historical Society and Museum, said the tours are a way to help people learn about the history of the community.

“When you stop to think about it, there are about 14,000 graves at Valley View Cemetery, it's been there since the 1880s, so a lot of the people who at one time or another had an impact on the communities history, are buried at Valley View,” he said.

During the tours people are lead throughout the cemetery to several grave sites and the veterans memorials and at some of the grave sites people encounter re-enactors portraying some of the people talked about on the tour.

Two tours are put on each of the three days that the event is held, one at 6 p.m. and one at 8 p.m., and last about 60 to 90 minutes.

The tours are led by Finney County Museum education coordinator Johnetta Hebrlee.

Some of the people portrayed this year were Geraldine Knox, Nannie Reed, Kitty Dale, Amy Gillespie and AJ Roggenbuck.

Bill Hebrlee portrayed Roggenbuck this year. This is Hebrlee’s second year re-enacting.

Hebrlee said he never thought he would be a re-enactor, but his wife, Johnetta Hebrlee, talked him into it and he then became enamored with who he was portraying after researching him.

“I'm a machinist-welder like Roggenbuck was, I build stuff and I just love the character,” he said. “The more I've researched him and his family, the more I kind of fell in love with him.”

Hebrlee also found a family connection to Roggenbuck — his mother was friends with Roggenbuck’s daughter, Maude, and he grew up knowing her.

“It makes me want to have my mom back so I can ask all these questions and fill in the blanks,” he said. “It was super fun playing AJ.”

AJ Roggenbuck was born in Germany in 1888 and immigrated to the United States, Chicago, with his family when he was 2 years old.

His family were machinists, and while living in Chicago he became enamored with trains and later on he was offered a job with the sugar beet factory in Garden City as a train engineer.

He built and drove the train engine that now sits at the Lee Richardson Zoo.

Quakenbush said he’s always impressed by the dedication of the re-enactors, who are all volunteers.

“Some of our volunteers have done it year after year, some may drop out for a year or two and then come back,” he said. “Each year we've always added one or two new volunteers, as well. I'm really impressed with that.”

Carol Dechant attended the 6 p.m. tour Thursday, and she said all of the actors were wonderful.

“I thought they portrayed the character really well and I would hate to say there was a favorite one, they were all very good,” she said.

Dechant has attended the Cemetery Tours in the past, and said what she enjoys about them is the history it teaches.

Dechant said the tours are an event she doesn’t like to miss.

“I like history and I like to hear about the past and just all the interesting things that happened way back in Garden City,” she said. “Living hear most of my life, it's good to come up and see familiar people, people's names appear and kind of associate with what they did and everything. It's just really cool.”

Quakenbush said what he likes about the tours is how it teaches local history in a unique way.

“Our mission, officially stated our mission is preservation of the past to enlighten the future,” he said. “I think that also involves celebrating the past and obviously helping learn about the past and this is a unique and unusual and fun way for people to discover history. That's what I like best about it.”

Re-enactor Stacie Hahn, portraying Amy Gillespie, tells a tour group about her life in Garden City on Friday evening at Valley View Cemetery during one of the Finney County Historical Society's annual Historic Walking Tours. This is the seventh year for the three-night event.