PARK RAPIDS, Minn.-Until last week, a Civil War veteran buried in the Lakeport Cemetery in Laporte had only a plain wooden cross to mark his grave.
Thanks to cemetery sexton Karen Keener, Johann Christian Lukenbill (1846-1919) now has a stone marker honoring his military service. It arrived 99 years and one month after Lukenbill was laid to rest.
Keener told Forum News Service she found a star-shaped "Veteran" pin several months ago, lying in the grass near the minimally marked grave.
She asked around, went to the library, did some research on ancestry.com, and found some confusing and possibly conflicting information. One listing had a different spelling of Lukenbill's name. Though the man was known locally as Johann, obituaries styled him J.C. and one dropped his first name and called him Christian.
With some help from Bob Cotant, Keener eventually got in touch with Lukenbill's great-great-granddaughter Lori Cook, who lives in the Twin Cities. She corresponded with Cook to obtain family records, including Lukenbill's death certificate, dated April 25, 1919, and the sole surviving family photo of the man.
"I thought it was fascinating," said Keener.
She visited with Hubbard County Veterans Service Officer Jerry Bjerke during his monthly outreach in Laporte. He helped her fill out an application for a veteran's grave marker.
Contacted by phone, Bjerke said, "Honestly, I didn't do anything. I just did the paperwork. (Keener) did all the work."
They reached out to a staff person at the National Archives, who guided them through the application process. To ensure someone would be able to receive delivery, the marker was shipped to a funeral home in Walker, and staff from the funeral home planted the marker during the week of May 21.
"It was fun to do," said Keener. "It was even more exciting when it came in. I actually shed a few tears."
"It really worked out well," Bjerke agreed. "I was pleasantly surprised when we found out that we were able to turn it around."
According to one obituary, Lukenbill was born in New York and served in the Missouri Cavalry, Company G 12th Regiment, from Dec. 31, 1863 to Jan. 2, 1866. After the war, he moved to Iowa, then to Frazee, where he went into the meat merchant business.
In 1898, he moved to Lake George and spent a year or two hunting and trapping. From there, he moved to Laporte and worked as a tracker. He spent his last few years with his sons in Kitchie, but always referred to Laporte as his home.
Lukenbill died at age 72, survived by a widow, seven sons and two daughters, and preceded in death by one son and two daughters.
"Rest, Soldier, Rest" was a song at his funeral, says another obituary, and "his casket was covered with beautiful flowers contributed by old friends, and from the time of his death until after the funeral the village flag was hung at half mast in respect for his memory."
Also resting in the Lakeport Cemetery is Lukenbill's daughter, Laura, who died Aug. 27, 1900 and was the first person buried there.
More information, including before-and-after photos Cotant took of Lukenbill's grave and a partial list of his close relatives, is available on www.findagrave.com.
"Nobody should go without a headstone," said Keener, "especially a veteran."