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Mitchell’s Eternal Flame
Drive south of Mitchell after sunset and you’ll pass a cemetery aglow with multicolored icons called Peace Lights. They are there because a family who lost a daughter never wanted to forget her.
Kimberly Plamp Schoenfelder was pregnant with her second child when she died unexpectedly in 1989. Neighbors of Kimberly’s parents Delmar and Diann, who farmed northwest of Mitchell, helped comfort the family by placing a candle on Kimberly’s gravestone. “We’d go by the cemetery every night on our way home from town, and we loved to see that candle,” recalls Kimberly’s sister, Sherri Kayser. “It just gave us a warm feeling.”
When it finally burned out, Diann Plamp sought a way to place an eternal light on her daughter’s grave. “We had solar-powered electric fences on the farm, so she thought it wouldn’t be that hard to figure something out,” Kayser says.
But she found no solar powered memorials on the market. So she got funding from the state, expertise from an engineer and a patent. By May 1992, she had created the first Peace Light. “The first product you could only see from one direction,” says Kayser, today the CEO of Cemeteries Aglow in Mitchell. “It had six LEDs (light emitting diodes) in it, so just the front of the cross lit up. And the base was about the size of a small suitcase. So it wasn’t really appropriate to put on top of a monument.”
Since then Peace Lights have become more streamlined. A clear acrylic symbol, available in a number of designs, rests atop a small granite base. A battery pack, which absorbs energy during the day, powers LEDs that glow through the night.
A few years ago, the company developed the Serenity Light, which can be mounted to a headstone or placed within a floral arrangement. Kayser says it’s a popular sympathy gift. “Flowers wilt and fade away, but the light will be there every night,” she says.
Editor's Note: This story is revised from the November/December 2011 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.