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Divining the dead: Dittberners cared for cemetery for nearly  50 years


by Trinity Gruenberg


The Woodside Township and Cemetery members showed their appreciation to Merle and Jackie Dittberner for their care of the Woodside Cemetery the past 46 years by presenting them with a plaque.

    The Wrightstown couple stepped up to care for the cemetery when nobody else would take on the responsibility. The Woodside Cemetery, often called the Wrightstown Cemetery, is located seven miles north of Bertha. 

    Jackie, a polio survivor, acted as the treasurer while Merle was the care taker.

    Jackie shared she contracted polio in 1953, just two years before the life saving vaccine became available. 

    She was treated at Sister Kenny’s in Minneapolis. 

    “They put me in a bed next to an iron lung. You can hear that thing going in and out as they were breathing,” described Jackie. 

    She shared it was an unpleasant sight seeing the crippling effects of polio in other people. 

    She was eventually settled into a room with other women and they shared stories about their kids and families. She described the beds as sleeping on a wooden table with a thin mattress that was extremely uncomfortable.  

    Merle explained that people would carry a pint of alcohol with them to wash their hands with due to the fear of contracting the disease. 

    Jackie survived the polio, but lost the use of one leg due to muscle atrophy. For many years she wore a leg brace to get around. 

    “I got so sick of that I got a wheelchair,” said Jackie. 

    She went on to have two more children, Dawn and Johnny, after her bout with polio. She also helped her husband care for the cemetery.

    It was at a cemetery meeting  that the pair became the caretakers.

    “We were pushed into it,” chuckled Jackie....

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