Plaehn embracing role as Riverside general manager

Danielle Plaehn thinks daily about Riverside Cemetery’s reputation since she took over as general manager Jan. 1.

The nearly 150-year old cemetery earned its distinction as a Marshalltown icon years ago. The pioneers who broke the prairie sod are buried in the Grandview section.

Nearby, stately trees shade “Founders Hill,” where fittingly, town founder Henry Anson is buried. Other Marshalltown notables, critical in Marshalltown’s development such as Greenleaf Woodbury, are buried at Riverside.

The cemetery is the final resting place of T. Nelson Downs, a world-famous magician during vaudeville who was born near Montour, but called Marshalltown home. Lake Woodmere’s swans, the landscaped grounds dotted with flower beds and the historic monuments, also make Riverside a tourist destination.

It attracts others.

“People come here to have senior and family pictures taken,” Plaehn said.

A Marshalltown native, Plaehn succeeded Don Henry, who retired. She had worked under Henry as office manager 4.5 years.

The board of directors asked Plaehn to apply after Henry announced his retirement.

She has been extremely busy since her first day, carrying out directives from the board.

Bobby Shomo is president, joined by Deb Oetker, treasurer, Mel Pitzen, secretary, Judith Cameron, Robert Johnson, Jean Neven and John Veldey, all of Marshalltown.

Plaehn said Riverside is a not-for-profit organization.

“We generate income primarily from burials and the sales of lots and markers, so our income is limited.” Plaehn said. “People expect us to keep the cemetery looking nice and to offer the same service that we have always had … they want that to continue. It is our job to meet their expectations.”

Due to limited income, Riverside’s directors have periodically found it necessary to appeal to the public to help fund major capital improvements.

“We currently are fundraising to make all of the cemetery’s roads hard-surface,” she said. “There are a number of gravel roads which should be repaired.”

Plaehn said $30,000 has been raised to date against a goal of $250,000.

Similarly, a number of years ago the board found it necessary to solicit donations to restore Lake Woodmere and make other improvements.

Board member Pitzen echoed Plaehn’s concern about gravel roads.

“We are concerned about ruts in some of the roads,” said Pitzen, a board member since 1996.

He identified other issues.

“There has been erosion around Founders Hill and elsewhere that we are working to address,” he said. “And we have many old trees that periodically require care.”

Plaehn said another goal is to encourage citizens to have a sense of ownership in Riverside. That can be accomplished, Plaehn said, by hosting public events such as walking tours.

“Many people have said: ‘I remember when they had walking tours and nativity scenes at Riverside.'”

The last walking tour was in 2002. Other tours had been held in 1996, 1998 and 1999.

Plaehn said cemetery records show area 4-H clubs were responsible for living creches during the Christmas season. Riverside does host an annual Memorial Day event with area veterans groups which typically attracts hundreds.

Plaehn dispelled a rumor the cemetery is full.

“We have plenty of room,” she said.

Contact Riverside at 641-753-7891 or