A reward is being offered in hopes of catching whoever vandalized the entrance to a historic cemetery in the heart of south Minneapolis that is older than the state itself.

Volunteers who tend to the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery at E. Lake Street and Cedar Avenue S. said that sometime last week someone stole a plaque off an entrance pillar on Lake Street and damaged a companion pillar while trying to swipe a second plaque.

The Friends of the Cemetery organization says the plaques with the cemetery's name were placed on the pillars in 1928 and have been visible markers along bustling Lake Street, where countless vehicles pass every day.

The group has put up a $500 reward for information leading to the plaque's return. Anyone who might know something is urged to contact Friends of the Cemetery at friendsofthecemetery@gmail.com or police at 612-673-5703.

"While we are still hopeful, we understand that the likelihood of the historic plaque being returned is probably slim," Tim McCall, a Friends of the Cemetery board member, said Thursday.

McCall said the pillars won't be fixed and the plaque replaced immediately. That will be part of a multiyear fence restoration project that received final funding from the state last year.

"The final phase will be the reconstruction of the stone pillars, including the one on Lake Street which held the now missing plaque," McCall said.

This burial site is the oldest existing cemetery in Minneapolis. Starting in 1853, it has been the final resting place of those who helped shape the history of early Minneapolis. Prominent territorial pioneers and roughly 200 military veterans who fought in conflicts from the War of 1812 to World War I also are buried in the cemetery.

Others among the 20,000 or so buried there include many of the city's early black residents and others connected to the abolitionist movement in Minnesota.

On June 2, 2002, Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.