Petunias bloom at a not-quite-forgotten cemetery

  • Article by: CURT BROWN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2012 - 11:02 AM

With watering can in hand, she visits a not-quite-forgotten cemetery.

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Every Sunday about 12:30 p.m., Nancy Aarsvold waters the pink petunias cascading from a basket that she placed here on Memorial Day. It hangs alongside Lyle’s gravestone.

BENNETTVILLE, MINN.

The little graveyard's fence is unlocked, but the Bennettville Cemetery still looks like another one of the countless forgotten burial grounds that punctuate the Minnesota countryside.

Sitting on a shady hillside along Tame Fish Lake Road, the cemetery opened in 1900. Some 570 people, at last count, have been buried here in Hazelton Township about a dozen miles north of Garrison and Lake Mille Lacs. Bennettville, a blur on Hwy. 169, boasted a new post office in 1898. It closed in '37.

That's the year Lyle Curtis Aarsvold was born up in Grand Marais on a farm of dairy cows with no electricity. He resides now at the top of the second row by the far fence.

And just like she does every Sunday about 12:30 p.m., Nancy Aarsvold breaks the quiet between bird song and faraway motor boats. Her gray Lincoln Town Car pulls up on the gravel road. She steps out and waters the pink petunias cascading from a basket that she placed here on Memorial Day. It hangs alongside Lyle's gravestone.

Actually, it's her gravestone, too, although only her birth date is etched below her name right next to Lyle's. They're chiseled beneath engravings of a jumping walleye and an RV trailer.

"We liked to go camping," she says.

Nancy lives in Crosby, 15 miles through the lake country to the northwest. Every summer Sunday, when she's back from Arizona, she heads to Shepherd of Lake Lutheran Church in Garrison.

"It's a long drive, but we lived in Garrison for 30 years," she says. "And today, I got to hold my new great-granddaughter at church."

Little Isabel is two months old. On her way home from church, Nancy stops at the Bennettville Cemetery to water the petunias.

"It's a nice outing for me," she says, declining to have her photograph taken for this story. "Ask anyone who knows me: I hate having my picture taken."

Nancy grew up in Kasson in southeastern Minnesota. Lyle was nearby in Byron, tending the cows that his family would haul down from Grand Marais in the springtime.

They married in 1959 and moved up here to run the Pikes Point Lodge on Mille Lacs. Lyle also dug trenches for campgrounds, became a founding member of Shepherd on the Lake Lutheran and spent 24 years as the greens keeper at Mille Lacs Golf Club. They raised two daughters, enjoyed two grandkids and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2009 - four months before Lyle died from emphysema.

Nancy worked for 28 years as a transcriptionist for the doctors at the clinic in Crosby.

When the dust settles and her car disappears down the gravel road, the Bennettville Cemetery grows quiet again as puffy clouds blow over the lake and the pines.

CURT BROWN

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  • Every Sunday about 12:30 p.m., Nancy Aarsvold waters these pink petunias cascading from a basket that she placed here on Memorial Day. It hangs alongside Lyle’s gravestone.

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