Longtime caretaker to leave post | SteamboatToday.com

Longtime caretaker to leave post

Charlie Norris plans to retire after 18 years of overseeing Oak Creek Cemetery

Melinda Dudley

— With 18 years under his belt as Oak Creek Cemetery’s caretaker, Charlie Norris still says mowing the grass is his favorite part of the job – that, and the cemetery’s view of town and the snow-covered Flat Tops.

“He enjoyed the peace and quiet, working up here,” his wife, Mary Ruth Norris, said. “He’ll miss that more than anything.”

“You come up here, and you see why people live in Oak Creek,” Charlie said.

The Norrises braved the cold Friday morning for a trip to the Oak Creek Cemetery with their English springer spaniel, Domino. Snow from a storm earlier in the week remained piled in the shade behind gravestones, and students from Soroco High School’s photography class milled around the grounds with their cameras.

For nearly two decades, Charlie has been caretaking at the Oak Creek Cemetery, mowing the grass, tending headstones after the winter snows and overseeing funeral services.

“For a long time, we had only two or three burials a year,” Norris said. “For the last few (years), it’s been two or three a month.”

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The Norrises were married in 1949 and will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year.

“We have three children that live within 5 miles of us here, and we have eight grandchildren – five of them still live here,” Mary Ruth said. “We helped populate this area.”

“There were only 350 people in town when we moved here,” Charlie said. “I think we know more people than that in the cemetery now.”

Charlie began caretaking at the cemetery by volunteering with his daughter, Susan Rossi, after the former caretaker left. Previously, he did a lot of construction in town, working on the Sinclair gas station and the Wash House building on Main Street.

Charlie has served on the Oak Creek Town Board, spent 20 years as a volunteer with the Oak Creek Fire Protection District and served 11 years on the Routt County Planning Commission.

“I kept busy,” Charlie said nonchalantly.

The town of Oak Creek managed the cemetery, perched on a hill behind Soroco High School’s football stadium, until the Oak Creek Cemetery District was formed in 1962. The district, whose boundaries include Oak Creek and Stagecoach and run halfway to Phippsburg, operates on a two-mill levy that brings in about $12,000 a year for equipment and maintenance.

Charlie submitted his resignation this fall after he was injured when the cemetery’s tractor rolled over him Sept. 20 while he was mowing the grass.

“The tractor tipped over, he fell out, and the tractor ran over him,” Mary Ruth said. “Luckily it was a little tractor.”

Charlie’s tractor accident also knocked over the biggest headstone in the cemetery – a roughly three-ton chunk of granite.

In addition to his increasing age – the Norrises will turn 81 next month – the concussion Charlie sustained in the tractor accident helped prompt his resignation.

“I couldn’t see very well for a week or so,” Charlie said. “I couldn’t drive the tractor or even a car for awhile.”

His son and son-in-law each have submitted applications to take his place. Much of the family has helped Charlie throughout the years and have served on the cemetery district’s board. Hopefully the job will remain a family tradition, Mary Ruth said.

“Our future plans – I’m gonna retire again,” Charlie said. “Get the motor home running again and head south.”

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com