Monday, March 28, 2016

Hesperia family begins cleanup effort at old Johannesburg cemetery

Alexandrea Marsh pulls weeds away from a grave site at the Rand District Cemetery in Johannesburg on Wednesday. The Kochara family from Hesperia discovered the cemetery in disrepair and began bringing a team of friends to help cleanup and care for the cemetery. (James Quigg, Daily Press)

By Paola Baker
Victor Valley Daily Press

JOHANNESBURG — For one Hesperia family, an hour and a half road trip is worth preserving a piece of history.

Eddie Kochara and his family and friends have recently made two trips to the Rand District Cemetery to undertake a cleanup effort. Dating back to the late 1800s, the cemetery, which is located off Mountain Wells Avenue in the town of Johannesburg 30 minutes north of Kramer Junction, appeared to have been abandoned when the Kocharas came across it a few weeks ago while on vacation.

“We were on our way to Lake Isabella and happened to pass by the cemetery,” Kochara’s wife Shannon said. “It was sad to see the condition it was in.”

The Daily Press joined the Kocharas and a few of their friends as they made another trip to the site Wednesday. The old cemetery, which is home to many unique graves, was overgrown with weeds and covered in dust. Many graves were barely visible due to the tangled overgrowth and dust.

Eddie Kochara said his eight children, who range from 9-year-old twins to teenagers, first came up with the idea to come back and start cleaning up the cemetery. Nine-year-old Caidyn Kochara readily agreed.

“We passed by and saw it and I just said, 'This is so sad,' ” Caidyn Kochara said. “We need to clean it up.”

The family, accompanied by a few friends, made another trip to the dusty old mining town and got to work a week after their vacation. Weeds were pulled, old gravestones were dusted and stones and flowers were rearranged in their rightful places. A large family memorial which holds 12 different graves took hours to clean, with 17-year-old Cassie Kochara undertaking most of the effort.

“It took me about four hours to get it to look like this,” Cassie Kochara said, as she carefully dusted off dirt from the memorial.

A plaque in front of the cemetery said the place was first established in December 1896 with the burial of William Davis, who was shot and killed in a gambling dispute in the neighboring town of Randsburg.

“The cemetery is the final resting place of many pioneers of the district whose headstones and the location of their graves have been lost to the ravages of time," the plaque reads. Several names of people buried can be found underneath the plaque.
Eddie and Shannon Kochara said they believed the site may have had a caretaker as recently as 15 years ago, as Eddie had come across it during an off-roading trip back then when it was in better condition. To come back years later and see the place in its current condition was “heartbreaking,” he said.

“When I came across it years ago, it was taken care of,” Eddie Kochara said. “When we saw it again, I decided something needed to be done.”

The family plans to make the trip every other Sunday to undertake the cleaning effort. Eddie Kochara said he’s been doing side jobs and rentals to fund the trips, but remained humble about his family’s efforts.

“It’s just who I am,” he said. “We made a dent in it, but there’s still a lot more to do.”

Shannon Kochara agreed with her husband’s sentiments.

“A lot of these graves are very old and many of these people just may not have any family living that’s able to take care of them,” she said, as she raked dust and pulled weeds from an old grave. “It’s just something I would want someone to do for me.”