On a blustery Wednesday morning, officials from State Hospital South recognized the donations of family and community members which has enabled them to memorialize 30 people who are buried in their cemetery.
"We placed 30 headstones in the last month, bringing the total to 48," said assistant hospital administrator Diane Yarrington. She pointed out that approximately 1,000 people were buried in the cemetery east of the main campus from 1886 to the early 1980s.
Last year hospital administrator Tracey Sessions and a few staff members began a fundraising campaign seeking donations for headstones. They used hospital records to identify the people buried there.
After they raised enough money for 30 markers, American Monument, which has an office in Idaho Falls, provided them.
Family members had placed the other 18 over the years.
Two relatives of individuals buried in the cemetery shared their stories via email.
Ron Galloway of Afton, Wyo., said he began searching for information on his great uncle's son, Wilford Kunz, on the Internet. He discovered a Morning News article about the cemetery renovation and enclosed a check for $50 to pay for his headstone.
According to Galloway, Kunz was mentally handicapped and spent many years at the state hospital. Before he was admitted, various family members cared for him, always considering him a burden.
"In sixty-six years Wilford had never lived on his own," Galloway wrote. "He had never married; he had never owned property. To my knowledge he had never written anything that was included in any family historyâ€¦"
"At some point, and I believe it was about 1934 that Wilford was committed as a patient at State Hospital South where he lived, assisted, for a number of years and finally died there."
His marker reads, "Wilford Kunz, Born 15 May 1885, Died 28 April 1946."
"Bless you in your efforts to see that these people have some dignity in death," Galloway wrote.
Marilyn Amos of Lewisville, Texas, said she was shocked when she visited the cemetery in 2007 and found few marked graves as she searched for the grave of her great-grandmother Harriet (Etta) Scoble-Moran.
"We walked the entire cemetery looking for a marker of any kind so I could pay my respects," Amos wrote. "Finally realizing the truth, all I could do was say a prayer for all those who are gone from us and the lack of respect the mentally ill received."
Amos also found the Morning News article about the cemetery renovation and solicited donations from family members.
Etta's marker was among the 30 placed last month.
"It is very important to have as many graves marked as possible, not only because it is respectful and the right thing to do, but for those who are or will be searching for the final resting place of their family member," Amos continued. "Maybe then they won't feel as I did and walk away so saddened and disheartened. I can't thank Tracey and her staff enough for believing in this worthwhile project and bringing it to fruition."
Yarrington concluded, "We have 969 to go. Our next goal is to purchase 100 more markers."
She said the donation fund has a balance of approximately $2,300.
"If it weren't for the Internet and the media, we wouldn't be getting any donations," Sessions said. Those tax-deducible contributions can be sent to The State Hospital South Cemetery Campaign, P.O. Box 400, Blackfoot, Idaho 83221.
The National Alliance on Mental Health contributed three of the headstones to help get the project started.