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Woodlawn Cemetery works on plan for the ages

  • Historic-Woodlawn-Cemetery-on-West-Central-Avenue

    Historic Woodlawn Cemetery on West Central Avenue is known for its art, history, and architecture as well as being the final resting place for 65,000 people.

    <the blade/dave zapotosky
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  • a-mission-for-the-living-and-the-dead

    Patty Toneff, left, joins Jean Thieroff, middle, and Sherry Plessner in bird-watching at Historic Woodlawn Cemetery.

    <The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
    Buy This Image

  • Historic-Woodlawn-Cemetery-on-West-Central-Avenue-1

    Historic Woodlawn Cemetery on West Central Avenue is known for its art, history, and architecture as well as being the final resting place for 65,000 people.

    <The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
    Buy This Image

a-mission-for-the-living-and-the-dead

Patty Toneff, left, joins Jean Thieroff, middle, and Sherry Plessner in bird-watching at Historic Woodlawn Cemetery.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Enlarge | Buy This Image

When Mimi Malcolm was a young girl, she and her grandfather often packed picnic lunches and spent the day at Historic Woodlawn Cemetery on West Central Avenue.

As they wandered around the property, Ms. Malcolm's grandfather pointed out famous Toledoans' tombstones, cultivating in her a fascination with local history.

Fifty years later, Ms. Malcolm of Toledo continues the tradition with Woodlawn's Summer Evening Strolls, a monthly walk with Woodlawn's historian that focuses on art, history, or architecture in different sections of the cemetery.

"I'm kind of a local historian myself, so it's really fascinating to me to go in there and see all the tombstones and the people," she said.

Summer Evening Strolls is only one example of the many programs offered by Woodlawn, founded in 1876 as a rural cemetery.

Patty Toneff, Woodlawn's director of community outreach, said the property offers many educational and recreational opportunities, with plans to expand these further.

"Part of the original mission, and part of the history of what a rural cemetery was about, is that it is where people gathered not only for funerary burial services but also as a place to explore nature, art, and history," she said.

Historic-Woodlawn-Cemetery-on-West-Central-Avenue

Historic Woodlawn Cemetery on West Central Avenue is known for its art, history, and architecture as well as being the final resting place for 65,000 people.

the blade/dave zapotosky
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Larry Sloan, the cemetery's executive director, said it probably will only become more magnificent in the coming years because it has ended the first year of a 10-year master plan to develop, improve, and maintain the grounds.

The plan, completed and initiated last July, encompasses both the cemetery structures and the property as an arboretum, Mr. Sloane said. It includes improving the cemetery's roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, removing and replanting trees for the arboretum, and developing future plans for the property's stream and ponds.

Besides the summer strolls, Woodlawn's weekly programs include a Friday morning bird-watching group and Woodlawn Walkers, a group that power-walks through the cemetery for two miles every Wednesday morning.

Ruth Koons joined the Walkers last year when Ms. Toneff began the program.

"I thought, 'What a great way to get more acquainted with the cemetery, and also get a little exercise and meet some new people,' " Ms. Koons said.

"There are new people there every week."

Ms. Koons said Ms. Toneff, who leads the group, is extremely knowledgeable about the cemetery and often knows answers to the group's questions about mausoleums or gravestones.

The cemetery is the resting place for 65,000.

This year, Ms. Toneff is spotlighting a different species of tree each week.

"We talk about it and then find a few of them in the cemetery," Ms. Koons said. "They have some quite magnificent trees there."

One of the first tasks the group began this past winter was removing the cemetery's older and dying trees.

"We felt the arboretum is a little more easily fundable and can have a real impact quickly," Ms. Toneff said.

Historic-Woodlawn-Cemetery-on-West-Central-Avenue-1

Historic Woodlawn Cemetery on West Central Avenue is known for its art, history, and architecture as well as being the final resting place for 65,000 people.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Ms. Toneff said the cemetery identified about 65 trees that needed to be removed, and Davey Tree Expert Co. has accomplished about 80 percent of that task.

Next, Ms. Toneff said, the group plans to complete an inventory of the property's trees, then will follow a replanting plan.

Also planned are improvements to the cemetery's stream. Ms. Toneff said the once-small brook has been expanded to run into large ponds and reflecting pools, but its recent maintenance has been poor.

"Over time that flow [of the stream] has become less and less because of other developments in the area," she said.

"How can we keep the beauty of the stream and develop it so it is pristine and flowing and natural?"

Mr. Sloane said the cemetery spent six months carefully studying the property with Mannik and Smith Group Inc., whose landscaping and architecture departments led discussions and completed the physical plan in accordance with the cemetery's boards.

"The cemetery is both an association that is not-for-profit and a nonprofit foundation," he said. "The citizens of Toledo and lot owners have a lot of say in the project."

Ms. Koons said she hopes the plan will succeed and will increase the cemetery's visitor traffic.

"It's such a beautiful and wonderful resource in West Toledo," she said.

"It's something a lot of people know is there, but they don't know all the beauty and resources there."

Contact Mel Flanagan at: mflanagan@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.

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