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PIONEERS COME TO LIFE IN 'GRAVE MATTERS'

Friends of Historic Forest Grove forgoes home tour for cemetery tour this year


NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: MICHAEL SPROLES - Dr. Bob Nixon and his wife Jean pose at Mountain View cemetery in Forest Grove, where Nixon will play his grandfather, Dr. Robert Nixon, also a dentist, during Saturdays Grave Matters event. This Saturday, the Mountain View Memorial Gardens cemetery in Forest Grove will have a unique attraction: the living dead.

But they’re not here to eat your brains.

Friends of Historic Forest Grove is hosting “Grave Matters,” a new, interactive tour centered around the lives of nine pioneers (five male and four female, including one teen girl) buried at the site. It features actors in period costumes standing next to the graves of the people they depict — pioneers who settled in the area long ago.

Although Grave Matters features a cemetery and dead people and takes place in October, “it’s actually not meant to be Halloween-y,” said Cherie Savoie Tintary, who co-organized the cemetery tour with longtime FHFG member Mary Jo Morelli, who provided most of the historical background.

Tintary, who lived near Corona, Calif., before moving to Forest Grove in June, 2014, adapted the idea after her first glimpse of Mountain View.

“Right before I moved up here, I volunteered at a cemetery tour and I learned more about Corona than ever before,” she said. “I visited Mountain View here and it’s a beautiful view — with lots of pioneers.” NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: MICHAEL SPROLES - Fletch Grylls, left, and David Morelli, right, as Henry Buxton, Jr. and Henry Buxton, Sr., respectively.

Tintary has high hopes that visitors will be entertained and excited by the “voices” from six feet under. The idea alone attracted so much interest, all 100 tickets were sold out by Sunday. Participants were limited to 100 due to shuttle bus capacity to and from the cemetery.

One of the draws to Grave Matters is the participation of Dr. Bob Nixon, a retired dentist in Forest Grove who will play the part of his grandfather, Dr. Robert Nixon, who was also a practicing dentist a century ago. Robert Sr. trained in dentistry and medicine in England, but traveled to New York in 1871, where his parents thought he’d fare better. After taking a train to San Francisco, he heard about land available in the Northwest and made his way here.

Bob Nixon, his father and his grandfather all were dentists in Forest Grove over a span of 122 years.

Even Lee Tintary, Cherie’s husband, is getting in on the fun, portraying the Rev. Harvey Clarke, one of the founders of Pacific University, who donated the land on which the school now sits.

Each character’s talk is five minutes or less.

Buses will shuttle tour attendees from the Old Train Station to the cemetery every half hour from 3 to 5 p.m. The tours last a little under an hour, with tour guides leading groups from grave to grave to see the pioneers come to life.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: MICHAEL SPROLES - The entire cast of Grave Matters pauses during a rehearsal at Mountain View Memorial Gardens.

If all goes well, ‘Grave Matters’ may be back again next year. It all depends on the volunteers, Tintary said.

“The Forest Grove Library asked us to do a program in January, and we’re gonna tie in some of the information from the cemetery tour for people who are missing it this weekend,” she said.

Homes lacked volunteers

Grave Matters replaced the Friends of Historic Forest Grove’s annual Historic Homes Tour this year because the nonprofit didn’t have enough volunteers to cover both events, said FHFG member Cherie Savoie Tintary, who proposed the cemetery tour to FHFG last fall.COURTESY PHOTO - DOLLY HINMAN

The cemetery tour, which cost $10 per ticket, sold out a week before the event, raising $1,000 for FHFG.

The Historic Homes Tours generally raise more money but the main goal of both tours is education,

not fundraising, said

FHFG President Diane Morris.

Despite the enthusiasm for Grave Matters, many people also had been looking forward to the Historic Homes Tour.

“People are very disappointed and calling us,” said Tintary, adding that the Historic Homes Tour will be back again next year — as long as there are enough volunteers to make it happen.COURTESY PHOTO - DR. ROBERT NIXON

The problem is that the tour is simply getting harder and harder to stage, with fewer and fewer people volunteering to open their historic homes to the public.

That’s not a problem with Grave Matters, Tintary said.

“The cemetery has endless people who are willing to have their stories told. You don’t have to ask their permission.”

— Jill Rehkopf Smith