High school student working to preserve history
Visitors to the Runge Nature Center might not realize that as they walk along a trail there, at one point they’re just 40 yards or so from a cemetery dating back before the Civil War.
To get to the Wyatt-Dix Cemetery, you have to go through the woods — either off a trail at the Runge Center or through the back yard of a residential home on the other side.
The curious, small cemetery appears lost in the woods and forgotten. There’s no gate to denote any boundaries inside the cemetery, and there are just five tombstones.
“The interesting thing about this cemetery is nobody’s buried there,” Wyatt Prosch said.
But, as Wyatt Prosch points out, it still holds significance: It’s the only place that marks the graves of these five people.
Prosch, of Lohman, is home-schooled, entering his senior year of high school. Prosch discovered the graveyard through discussions with Runge employees, who joked that there was a cemetery on the Runge grounds named after him.
So he researched it and thought, “Somebody needs to fix up this old cemetery.” For more than a half year now, after getting the necessary permits, he’s taken on the task himself.
“I think all of these historic cemeteries need to be preserved,” he said. “I believe that in the current times, history has been forgotten. And all of these little places, if they are left unrestored will eventually disappear.”
Several times a week, he goes to the cemetery. The headstones — for two couples along with a child who died of cholera — were partially sunken into the ground, so he used a jack to get them up and in their proper places.
He’s slowly but steadily worked to clean the headstones and cut down brush in the area. He used fallen trees to create a boundary around the tombstones. He’s even made a cemetery sign that he posted on a dead tree.
While the headstones are at the cemetery, the remains were said to be moved to Longview Cemetery. Prosch doesn’t know why the tombstones were never moved.
The cemetery started around the mid-1800s and continued until the 1920s, he said. He doesn’t know of any descendants who are living in the area.
When he’s not home-schooling or keeping up the cemetery, he works part time at the Jefferson City Country Club, where he works to maintain turf on the golf course.
“It is the best job that I’ve had, and I would recommend it to everyone I know. And the people you meet out there are incredible,” he said.
He also collects old soda bottles, many from Jefferson City and other small towns. He wrote a history piece in the May 1 News Tribune headlined, “Soda bottling companies thrived in Capital City in late 1800s.”
Another hobby of his is collecting old Lionell and other brands of O-gauge railroad trains. He has hundreds of trains, along with a layout on the carpet of his living room at home.
He said he hopes to earn a business degree then go into real estate. He always wants to be a fixture of the community, and he intends to continue finding ways to give back to the community.