The Alta Loma Cemetery dates from 1897, and, like many country graveyards, had largely been forgotten.
Robert Bear, a historian of the area and a Korean War veteran, decided he would be the one to remember.
Over the past year, he has cleaned and reset a total of 349 gravestones.
“At first I was only looking to put flags on the graves of veterans, but it was kind of a chore because the gravestones were overgrown with algae and dirt and some had sunk into the ground,” Bear, of Santa Fe, said.
Eventually he was able to find the graves of 105 veterans from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and even Operation Desert Storm.
“It made me feel good — like I was giving a legacy back to those who fought for the country,” Bear said. “By revealing their names to the public, they could be remembered.”
After he finished the veteran graves, Bear started looking at the other monuments and decided someone needed to clean those, too, so he got to work. He leveled and reset 33 graves. He dug out the drainage ditches and trimmed the trees.
“You might say I was tidying up my final resting place because I plan to be buried here,” he said.
Bear’s other activities are more about the living than the dead. He is the founder of the Old School Museum in Santa Fe, which features exhibits on the history of the area, including Algoa, Alta Loma and Arcadia, the three communities incorporated to form the city of Santa Fe.
Bear guides school children through the museum and tells stories about the area’s history.
“They are in awe of the old days,” he said. “I have an old pitcher pump set up to show how homes used to get water,” he said.
Bear moved to Santa Fe in 1938. He met his wife, Saranne, who nominated him as a Daily News Everyday Hero, at a football game in 1958. He took her to Falco’s Drive-in in Dickinson, and they stayed out so late her parents were out looking for her. Married more than 60 years, they have four children and four grandchildren.