Salute Our Heroes: 88-year old brings back to life what was once forgotten

We salute Bill Klenklen for his dedication to the Pioneer Cemetery in Valley Falls
Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 6:33 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - At 88 years old, the value of hard work isn’t lost on Bill Klenklen. After more than 2-decades of cleanup, he’s got a lot to show for it.

“In 3-years I probably pulled out, I’m going to say 350 stumps and possibly cut 50 or 60 under the ground,” said Klenklen.

Since 1996, Bill has been tasked with restoring this old forgotten cemetery in Valley Falls. The land was overgrown with trees and crumbling headstones, some dated back to since before the Civil War. So Bill with some help cleared the land and got to work.

“I think we put together and put up 58 monuments,” said Klenklen. “When we started, there was 8 stones standing in the whole cemetery.”

Klenklen says he often thinks about the lives lived by the people he is now helping.

“Yeah I do, I do. You know, what caused their death. There is so many young people’s stones in here that evidently, they had a flu epidemic or something, but I think of it all the time, you know, when I’m up here working.”

Over the years and through a few vandalisms Bill had help from the community and his friends Thomas Abramovitz who died from cancer several years ago and Joe Heinen who’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Bill says he plans to work as long as it takes.

“I just hope I last that long. I’m going to be 89 in December so I just hope I can stay with it enough.”

Something that surprised him is that people will still visit the old cemetery and once in a while leave flowers at a gravesite.

“I can’t believe that there’s so many people that visit old cemeteries,” said Klenklen. ”You know I work up here and people from Kansas City, Holton, any place but every once in a while, flowers will show up on graves up here on Memorial Day and you’ll have no idea, but I would say they’re probably a relative of some kind, you know.”

This Halloween consider dropping by Pioneer Cemetery. You may even find Bill bringing comfort to those gone one grave at a time.

“I cannot sit and watch television like some people can or just goof off,” said Klenklen. “I’ve got to do something productive.”

The Pioneer Cemetery is open to the public and can be found on Kansas Highway 16 just west of Valley Falls.