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Jefferson Award Winner: Paul Arntzen

Dunn County (WQOW) – For decades, a little-known cemetery in Menomonie sat overrun and uncared for. This month’s Jefferson Award winner is honoring the dead by bringing a little beauty back to their final resting place.

It is easy to miss Potter’s Field Cemetery in Menomonie. In fact, it is actually hard to find.

“You don’t see anyone. A lot of planes taking off and landing,” said October’s Jefferson Award winner Paul Arntzen.

Tucked next to the local airport, with the only access through the Dunn County highway shop lot, Potter’s Field holds a lot of history.

“The first burial that we can definitely identify would be 1891,” said Sofi Doane, Friends of Potter’s Field co-chair. “They are a huge part of our history. A lot of the people buried here, their stories are beyond amazing.”

The list includes Laura Ingalls Wilder’s aunt, bank robbers and alleged mobsters.

Nearly all of the graves are unmarked and the long-abandoned graveyard was in need of some serious TLC. That is where Arntzen came in.

He said he has been blessed with two green thumbs. He has a degree in horticulture and spent his working years helping Eau Claire’s Bollinger Fields bloom.

“I am retired, busier than ever, but I made time for this,” Arntzen said.

This past summer, he planted a dozen trees and a number of shrubs and flowers to help polish this hidden gem.

“In someone else’s mind, they think you’re just out here digging, whereas yourself, it is joyful,” Arntzen said.

It is the definition of thankless work, bringing beauty to a burial ground many won’t ever see. For Arntzen, there is personal satisfaction in helping those who have long been forgotten.

“There’s no established church that’s maintaining this or even remembering who they are and I’d like that to be part of my work here,” Arntzen said.

Arntzen’s work is about more than moving dirt. He even built his own water wagon to help the plants grow. However, the job is far from over. He said he plans to be back every week, making sure Potter’s Field remains pristine.

If you know someone in the community making a difference through volunteering, nominate them for a Jefferson Award here. 

Visit the Friends of Potter’s Field website here

Stephen Kelley

Stephen Kelley joined the News 18 team in August 2006. He is currently the Executive Producer and an Evening Anchor.

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