Waterfowl at cemetery brings community together
A cemetery is not where someone usually finds happiness or a family enjoys a picnic, but Marshalltown is not your average place and Riverside Cemetery is not your average cemetery.
Ever since Lake Woodmere was constructed under the guidance of S.W. Rubee, Riverside Cemetery’s first superintendent, waterfowl have flocked to the area and the natural beauty has drawn in the residents of Marshalltown. Dorie Tammen, general manager of Riverside Cemetery, said that it’s estimated that Lake Woodmere was installed around 1900 to 1902, so it has been a staple of Marshalltown culture for quite a long time.
Tammen said the number of waterfowl present at Riverside Cemetery varies greatly from season to season and from year to year. She said that at times they have had less than 40 and at other times they have had over 100.
There are some staple waterfowl that stick around at the cemetery for various reasons. These include a trio of grey Chinese geese, a duo of white domestic geese, a snow goose with a bent wing, three muscovy ducks, a group of mallards and Donna Duck, a white domestic duck who spends her time with the mallards.
There are also many Canada geese who make their permanent residence at Riverside Cemetery due to having Angel Wing Disease. Marshall County Conservation Director Mike Stegmann said the disease takes place during the growth stages of a gosling and malforms the wings, making them permanently flightless. It is caused by a nutritional deficiency in vitamins and minerals combined with a high level of carbohydrates and sugars.
Marshalltown has a rich history with Lake Woodmere and its waterfowl, and some of the stories are heartwarming while others are knock-your-socks-off hilarious.
“[I] loved to go feed the swans when I was growing up in the 70s,” said David Theophilus. “Took my nephew there in 1986 to feed them, he was about 3, and one nipped him on the rear. I thought it was funny. He did not.”
Kevin Rogers said he recalls listening to a police scanner and hearing a report about ducks leaving the cemetery and being in danger of being hit by a car. He said that the officer reported the ducks were last seen waddling down Riverside Street and the dispatcher was laughing through her response.
“We used to go to Riverside Cemetery to see the swans and ducks often,” Linda Yantis said. “One time a big swan chased us back to the car. Mom got us inside the car but that swan bit her on the leg and chased her up on the hood of the car. We kids were really impressed at how big a swan is with wings spread and chasing us. She had a huge bruise on her leg for a long time.”
John Finley said he remembers when his father irritated a swan at the cemetery and the swan proceeded to tear off his bicycle seat.
“Our grandma started taking us to see the swans when we were probably 2 and 3 years old so we grew up going to the cemetery often and didn’t think anything about it,” Dawn Yanda said. “As teenagers we liked to ride our bikes there, it was peaceful and quiet plus traffic was light.”
Bill Ferguson said he grew up on Webster Street and most of the kids in the neighborhood would ride bikes down to Riverside and spend all day feeding and playing with the waterfowl. They played games like “find the oldest gravestone.”
“I spent my early years a couple of blocks from the cemetery,” Karen Beasley Edgington said. “I loved when Mother and I would walk to the pond with a blanket and picnic basket. We would spread the blanket, eat lunch and feed the ducks and swans. We always went the day they released the baby swans for the first time. It does my heart good to see young families continuing the tradition. Such a beautiful, peaceful place.”
Mary White said she remembers when her youngest son, Bryan, came between a mother Canada goose and her nest. She said she told him to run, but he was so scared he just ran in place. She had to run and grab him before running to the car. She said it was traumatic at the time, but a funny story now.
“My family were longtime fans of Riverside and its resident waterfowl, and after our pet goose was orphaned, we moved him to Riverside where he thrived amidst friends and visitors,” Nancy Adams said. “I think they were the best years of his life. So inspiring was his transition, it became the subject of my second children’s book.”
Adams’ goose was named Goosey-Goose and was a famous resident of Riverside Cemetery until he died at the age of 18 in January 2018.
Contact Logan Metzger at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org