Vandals, cows threaten man’s one-person effort to honor paupers

Even in death, the paupers can’t find respect in Fergus Falls.

At the Poor Farm Cemetery, Bob Riepe, of Perham, Minn., has thought about giving up on his one-man effort to keep up the cemetery near where the Otter Tail Poor Farm once stood. It operated from 1882 to 1936 and was abandoned until Riepe, an author, found a person he was doing research on was buried there somewhere, the Fergus Falls Daily Journal says.

It was an overgrown spot on the prairie. There were no markers. So he saved it and gave the memory of the people buried there a little respect by turning it into a typical cemetery. He found 176 graves and has determined names for all but 16 of the people buried there.

He uses the money from books about people buried there to improve their lot in death.

But now, the Daily Journal says, the vandalism is constant and cows from a nearby farm regularly get in and, literally, dump on it.

A few years ago, Riepe was considering stopping the project altogether.

“A gal from Minneapolis called me and said ‘I think my great-great-grandfather is buried out there’ and I told her ‘yes, and I know exactly where he’s buried,’” Riepe said. The woman came out and Riepe brought her to the grave. She dropped the ground and started to weep. “Right then I knew it was all worth it,” Riepe said.

Now, two years later, he’s again considering if he should continue on after all that’s happened.

But, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. There is talk of surveillance being put up to keep an eye on the grounds and several people who take daily walks in the area have promised to keep an eye on the grounds for Riepe.

Riepe has hope that the flowers he had planted will come back next year after recovering and that people will come to pay respects and not to vandalize.

Last week, the cemetery’s simple sign — Poor Farm Cemetery — was damaged by vandals.