IRON MOUNTAIN, Mich. (WZMQ) – In the heart of a city brimming with history and community spirit, the August Lilja Memorial Trust is embarking on an ambitious project to honor the past while enhancing the future. The Lilja trust commitee is spearheading the design and financing a captivating new arch for the Iron Mountain Cemetery.
One committee member is the respected North Elementary School Principal, who is announcing project details.
Amidst the meticulous planning, Principal Andy Mendini, one of the committee’s members, shared their visionary plan. He described it as, “Sandstone pillars on each side of the entryway, with the arch going over the top, kind of framing the entrance to the cemetery,” and shared the expected cost. “Right now, you know it’s in excess of $100,000, so we have some money that we’re going to put toward it, and work on the goal of paying it off. And we already have one outside organization, some people that have generously donated,” he informed.
The trust committee has representation from the United Methodist Church, Lutheran Church, and Covenant Church.
But what makes this endeavor truly remarkable is that the committee ensures that this grand arch project won’t cost the city a dime, thanks to the invaluable contributions of local historians through guided cemetery tours.
Jayna and her husband, Keith Huotari are the first community members to make contributions to the trust. Acting as local historians, they have been giving guided cemetery tours, which have been increasing in popularity. Donations for the guided tours have been steadily rolling in, and the couple wanted to give back.
Jayna Huotari, a historian for Tombstone Tourists, shared the deeper connection between the cemetery and their cause. She said, “The cemetery is a great source of local history. Every stone tells a story. Over the years of doing research on people who were buried in the cemetery, we found some of the stories to be absolutely fascinating. And then we found out the Lilja fund also had big plans for making improvements at the cemetery. So we have donated all the money we’ve raised toward the Lilja fund.”
The couple anticipate to pick back up with their guided tours of the cemetery sometime in the spring, and are active on social media with their endeavors, which are called Tombstone Tourists. As someone who strolls the city cemetery frequently, Huotari would like to see further improvements to the cemetery grounds. She would like to see new pavement, and better signs identifying the different sections of the cemetery. Most of all, she shared that the cemetery fountain needs help.
“There’s an original fountain right as you enter the cemetery. And it’s from 1903. That one has seen better days. It’s cast iron, it’s missing it’s topper, it’s in pretty rough shape. It would be nice to see that replaced with a brand-new one, and something more befitting a cemetery as beautiful as ours,” she shared.
The architectural design of the arch was skillfully crafted by Arco Engineering, with Gundlach Champion overseeing the design and bids. Heidi Reddinger, the newest committee member, played a pivotal role in bringing the arch plans to life. She explained, “I had a vision of this. And when I wrote it up, the guys liked it, and that’s how this arch came about.” Reddinger also shared the sentimental origins of the project, revealing, “Madge Lilja left a handwritten note years ago saying that she was leaving a trust – Trust money for the beautification of the city of Iron Mountain.” It was Mage Lilja’s wishes, and in her handwritten will, that the funds be dedicated to this purpose at her passing.
This dedicated committee gathers monthly to make decisions on various beautification projects within city limits, and they warmly welcome public input focused on enhancing the city’s aesthetics. Their mission is clear: to transform Iron Mountain into a place where its rich history and commitment to preserving its heritage shine brightly.
As the project gains momentum, donations are appreciated to the Lilja Fund, which will would allow the trust committee to embark on further improvements. With the arch anticipated to grace the cemetery’s entrance by mid-summer of 2024, Iron Mountain stands poised to commemorate its past and embrace its future.
Donations to the trust fund can be directed to First Bank in Care of the August Lilja Memorial Trust Fund.
*Photo is project drawing by Heidi Reddinger