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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Nov. 16, 2007

A sesquicentennial look back

Cemetery is unique facet of campus history

by Paula Van Brocklin

Iowa State is known for many accomplishments. Less well documented is the fact that ISU possesses one of the oldest university cemeteries in the nation, second only to the University of Virginia.

The Iowa State University cemetery, tucked away in the northwest corner of campus off Pammel Drive, was established in 1875. That's when Tom Thompson, a member of Iowa State's first graduating class of 1872, died of pneumonia while employed as winter caretaker of the poorly heated Old Main. With no family to claim his remains, Thompson was buried near his alma mater, beneath a canopy of trees overlooking Clear Creek.

The following year, the university's Board of Trustees designated the five acres surrounding Thompson's grave as a college cemetery. Through the years, the university's need for buildings, streets and parking lots claimed some of the land allotted for the cemetery. Today, the cemetery consists of 1.7 acres.

Hilton gravestone

Helen LeBaron Hilton, dean of the former College of Family and Consumer Sciences from 1952 to 1975, is among those buried in the ISU cemetery. Photo by Bob Elbert.

An Iowa State Who's Who

A walk through the cemetery provides a snapshot of Iowa State's 150-year history. Many of the names on the headstones are the same ones that denote buildings and streets on campus - Welch, Knapp, Beardshear, Hilton, Spedding, Sloss, Pammel. Among the more than 700 graves in the cemetery are seven university presidents, one acting president, and several faculty and staff members who helped shape Iowa State.

But not all those buried in the cemetery were scholarly. Several served the university in humble ways.

Knute Heglund was a night watchman who patrolled campus on foot from 1918 to 1946. For many of those years, Heglund's loyal black dog accompanied him on his rounds. Heglund died in 1946, and is buried in the cemetery. Unconfirmed legend has it that his dog is buried next to him.

"There is no record of a dog being buried in the cemetery. It has never been documented," said Chad Deike, cemetery coordinator and landscape architect with facilities planning and management. "But documentation didn't occur as much then as it does now."

Two students also are buried in the cemetery. Kung Fan Chi, a 29-year-old horticulture major, died in a car accident in 1929. He had no known relatives, so he was buried in the ISU cemetery. He was believed to be the 70th direct lineal descendent of Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher. Park Youn Kyu, a student from Korea, died of tuberculosis, though no date of death is recorded.

Many children and spouses of employees also are interred in the cemetery. Bertie Wood, the 4-year-old daughter of an ISU janitor, died in 1878. Some accounts state that she is buried in the cemetery only because snowdrifts blocked the roads between campus and the Ames city cemetery.


Today, burial in the Iowa State cemetery is reserved for those who have continuously served the university for at least 20 years. In addition, faculty members must have attained the rank of tenured assistant professor or higher. Professional and scientific employees with a P19 or P20 classification also may be buried in the cemetery. Spouses and unmarried children (who have not established their own homes) of eligible employees may be buried there as well.

The University Cemetery Committee oversees the administration of the cemetery. This group comprises three university administrators and one ISU Retiree Committee member. The committee meets as necessary to consider special burial requests and approve projects.

For more information on eligibility requirements, see


What to do?

With thick woods, a steep ledge, a street and an outdoor classroom bordering the cemetery, its future has been in question for some time.

"Like anything, there's a limit to the capacity," said cemetery coordinator Chad Deike. "Before too long, there's going to be an issue with space."

Currently, there are about 15 cremation and 75 full burial plots available. So far this year, eight burials have taken place.

Deike said expanding the cemetery has been discussed, but no plans are in the works. One option, he said, is to build a columbarium or memorial wall, which would contain niches to house urns of cremated remains.

"Before too long, somebody's going to have to make a decision," Deike said.

ISU 150th logo

Sesqui series

Inside is celebrating the sesquicentennial with a yearlong series of photos and articles that look back at Iowa State traditions, people and places.