A liaison in times of need

  • Ollie Niemi took over as New Ipswich's cemetery sexton in 2004. He’s pictured on the piece of land where he plans to be buried. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Ollie Niemi is New Ipswich's cemetery sexton. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/19/2019 9:32:31 PM

After 15 years as New Ipswich’s “temporary” cemetery sexton, Ollie Niemi is passing the shovel to his successor.

The town’s four graveyards have been Niemi’s purview since 2004, when he took over for the late Dave Howard.

“I’ll do it temporarily until they find someone,” Niemi recalled with a chuckle – he’d end up staying 15 years, walking the grounds, overseeing the maintenance and when necessary, digging the graves.

“I think it’s all part of living,” Niemi said during a walk around Center Cemetery. “The final moment is the respectful burial of a person.”

Niemi has lived in New Ipswich most of his life, moving to town with his parents when he was five years old and graduating from Appleton Academy in the 18-student class of ‘59.

“It’s really a nice town to live in,” Niemi said.

After high school, he got the “odd idea” that he should become an accountant, and began school in Manchester; the accountant business wasn’t for him, but there, he met his wife Gretna and they were married shortly thereafter.

He’d then attend Lowell Tech and train in electrical engineering, which led him to a job at Western Electric.

Niemi served in the Air Force from 1963-67, moving from base to base in Europe as part of the Second MOB, an emergency communications group standing at the ready to deploy and set up worldwide communications in case the Vietnam War turned into another world war.

After retiring from the engineering industry in 2001, Niemi became a cemetery trustee and eventually, sexton.

“I think it’s a job that families do appreciate,” Niemi said. As cemetery sexton, he’d prepare each 10x10 plot for burials – the majority of which are cremations these days, he said – and aid families as they lay loved ones to rest. To spare the sight of a bare dirt grave bottom, Niemi placed ferns or branches in the grave to spruce up the final resting place.

Each grave was treated like it was for a friend or family member, and some of them were. A walk around Center Cemetery included a stop at his own future grave plot, where he and his wife Gretna are to be buried someday, with her best friend on one side and his brother and sister-in-law on the other.

After ceding his duties to incoming cemetery sexton Gary Johnson, Niemi, an avid golfer, will move his walks on the rocky green slopes of Center Cemetery to the similar landscape of the Shattuck.

Niemi said he still golfs with some of his high school chums.




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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