Saving Pere Cheney, Part Two: Amber’s Legacy

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(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the second part in a series of stories on the ghost town Pere Cheney and its popular cemetery. Different groups want to save this historical site from vandalism which threatens to destroy it. The problem between the groups is the ideas on how to save it often clash, leaving frustration on both sides.)

BEAVER CREEK TWP. – College student Amber Lynn Skutt , 25, of Roscommon, was one of many people who loved visiting the Pere Cheney Cemetery in southern Crawford County. Its quiet location, hidden by forest, gave her a place of solitude for thinking.

“Pere Cheney [cemetery] was one of Amber’s go-to places in the middle of the day,” explains her grandmother, Amy Schade. “She went there to meditate, to draw and to clean up the gravesites.”

On April 22, 2017, Amber was killed in an automobile accident, likely the result of avoiding an animal in the road.

“We knew now we could never do anything for Amber anymore. Her dad can no longer walk her down the aisle. Her mom would never be able to hold one of her grandchildren.”

So, her grandmother came up with the idea of burying Amber’s ashes in Pere Cheney cemetery. She believed doing so would be simple. It turned out to be anything but.

It has been 93 years since anyone was buried in one of the ghost town plots.

Amy says she was told by Beaver Creek Township, which maintains the cemetery, burying Amber would be difficult because of poor records, vandalism and lack of security. Those details would need to rectified.

Not all graves in the old cemetery are marked and some tombstones have been destroyed because of vandalism. A large portion of the cemetery has become overgrown with trees and plants over the decades. So, finding where unused plots are can be difficult.

There are 498 plots in the cemetery. According to Amy’s research, records are showing only 108 burials took place there in decades past. That would leave plenty of space for Amber to be buried in.

So, Amy, along with friends and family, decided to form a non-profit organization, Amber’s Pere Cheney Restoration Fund. From there, they went about trying to find solutions to the problems township officials had brought up in order to bury Amber.

Since the organization’s establishment, Amy has talked to companies about surveying the cemetery, using ground-penetrating sonar to locate graves, restoring the gravestones, creating new memorial markers and has talked to a historian who wants to create a family tree for those buried there and even write a book on the ghost town.

If this all sounds expensive, it is. However, the idea behind Amber’s Pere Cheney Restoration Fund is to supply the funds needed to do that. Amy says she already has donors willing to come through with the money as soon as she gets the go-ahead from the township.

Amy’s ambitions for Pere Cheney go even beyond the cemetery however. Her ultimate goal is to eventually mark the foundations of various buildings and set up the area for free self-guided tours. Not only could visitors see gravestones, but also the locations of those people’s houses and businesses. She wants to create a truly historic site for the community which was once the county seat.

Despite the available resources, Amy says the township keeps telling her “not yet” to the cemetery restoration. And she is feeling frustrated. It seems to her the township is dragging its feet, hoping she will give up her cause. The struggle to bring restoration to the cemetery has been ongoing for a year.

“I’m a bulldozer. I’m not very tactful, but I’ll get things done,” says Amy. “We are not a fly-by-night organization. When I’m gone, my daughter will take over.”

Kurt Kolka
Kurt Kolka
Kurt J. Kolka grew up in the small community of Grayling, Mich., near the forested AuSable River. After majoring in English at college, he began a career in writing and newspapers spanning more than two decades. In his spare time he creates a Christian comic strip, The Cardinal, which has a 28-year history of publication. He has also authored a book, “Bullying is No Laughing Matter” (Front Edge Publications, Ann Arbor, Mich., 2014) and is working on his first novel. Kurt and his wife Diane have been married for more than 25 years and have one daughter, Rebekah, and an overprotective dog, Alli. Of life, Kurt says, “Life is never dull with God at the steering wheel, but, man, does He have a lead foot!” More about Kurt and his musings may be found at www.betweenthepines.org.
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