Van Buren has a lot of diamonds within its city limits.

Some are hard to find. They require a little digging to reveal. But once uncovered, they shine bright and show themselves to the persistent digger as something beautiful to behold, something wonderful to enjoy.

Some of Van Buren’s diamonds are right on the surface, just begging someone to see them, to take in what they have to offer, to brighten someone’s day.

Fairview Cemetery is a Van Buren gem that offers a little of both.

Fairview Cemetery packs a punch for its 10-acre size. It dates back to 1816 when the region was settled and includes burial sites of some of Van Buren’s first settlers.

The cemetery was first established as an informal private burial ground and was later given to Van Buren by John Drennen in 1846.

Then, in 1861, a section of the cemetery’s eastern portion was reserved for burials that were related to the Civil War. In this section there are 442 known graves containing the remains of Confederate Army soldiers and eight Union Army soldiers.

The National Register of Historic Places signed up the cemetery’s Confederate portion in 1996 and the entire cemetery was put on the register in 2005 for the part it played in the history of the area.

I love history. I wish I had paid more attention when I took those classes in school. But I’ve been able to travel to, and live in, some places that were touched by historic events and so now, with my junior and senior high days a distant chapter of my history, I can appreciate the subject with still time left to enjoy it and its impact.

I’ve been in the South Pacific in remote villages that housed — and helped — American soldiers during World War II. I even met a native gentleman on one island who served as a translator for WWII troops. I got another big taste of history while living in Los Alamos, NM, next to the national laboratory that produced the nuclear bombs that ended that world war.

And now I live in the shadows of the Civil War and Fairview Cemetery is a diamond I’ve enjoyed getting to study.

But Fairview Cemetery also shares its space in the lore of Van Buren with a hidden gem, hidden mostly because he likes it that way. And when uncovered, he’s quick to point out other gems he feels deserve as much — if not more — attention as he gets when the subject of Fairview Cemetery is discussed.

That gem is Randy Smith, who was honored Thursday for his years of work with the cemetery by being named the 2019 Iverson Riggs Citizen of the Year, an award he had no idea he would be receiving while attending the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting and Business Expo.

It wasn’t until his friend and fellow Van Buren High School classmate Bob Freeman, himself a previous Iverson Riggs Citizen of the Year winner, was well into his presentation speech when Smith thought, “Is he talking about me?”

Smith might not consider himself Citizen of the Year material, but so many others in and around Van Buren think otherwise.

Fairview Cemetery owes a big chunk of its historical legacy to Smith, who has catalogued burial plots and organized annual Tales from the Crypt events at the cemetery featuring live actors portraying people who are buried at the cemetery as a historical “story telling” session for Van Buren residents and visitors.

And with the money he raises from the Tales from the Crypt events he pays to have repairs done to headstones that have become cracked or broken. 

Why would someone want to do that? Why would someone want to take on all that work battling time in an old place of final rest?

Suffice it to say, Smith is a fan of history and, more specifically, local history. He’s a teacher, passing on the stories of those buried at Fairview Cemetery to anyone who will listen, especially the younger crowd. But he’s also a caregiver and caretaker of one of the areas most significant gems.

Smith cares about Fairview Cemetery and the many stories it holds. He also cares about the citizens of our area and feels it necessary they know these stories.

He doesn’t have to be the one telling the story, or the one getting credit for keeping these stories alive. But he does tell the stories and he is the reason these stories still live.

And because of Randy Smith, we’ve been given something wonderful to enjoy.

Bennett Horne is the editor of the Press Argus-Courier and Alma Journal. Readers may email him at bhorne@pressargus.com.