With a larger than normal influx of people expected to visit the graves of deceased loved ones over Memorial Day weekend, cemetery caretakers are solely responsible for ensuring the sacred grounds are at their best.
It’s a task Cliff Russell and his small team of four take seriously as they tend to two Daviess County cemeteries – Resurrection, 5404 Leitchfield Road, and Mater Dolorosa, 1860 W. 9th St. – which count more than of 11,000 graves combined.
“Of course, sometimes it becomes work, but I always try to approach things with a sense of reverence,” said Russell, cemetery director for the Catholic Diocese of Owensboro. “There’s a lot of love on this hill.”
Russell said the holidays come when grass and shrubs grow at a faster rate than any other part of the year, making it a tough time.
“We are still reeling from the effects of winter,” Russell said. “We’re trying to get everything in shape, and we’re trying to get all of our veteran scorers; that’s usually our biggest concern is to do all of this before Memorial Day.
The Resurrection Cemetery opened in 1960, with the Most Reverend Francis Cotton – the first bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro – the first person to be buried there.
Since then, 4,668 graves have been added. And of that number, there are 785 known veterans buried in the 20-acre cemetery. And on average, the Resurrection Cemetery hosts 160 burials a year.
In all, the Diocese has 100 acres around the Resurrection Cemetery, which means there is plenty of room for growth.
Mater Dolorosa has existed since the 1800s and has 6,500 tombs.
Although the cemeteries are owned and maintained by the diocese, Russell said people of different faiths can be buried there.
“The church has become ecumenical when it comes to community evangelism, so you don’t have to be Catholic here,” Russell said. “But the majority of our burials are probably (Catholic).”
Russell added that the work is not limited to maintaining grounds and graves. He and the crew befriended daily or weekly visitors to the tomb.
“We get to know a lot of regulars — those who are more open to visiting or asking questions,” Russell said. “There is also some kind of ministry involved in this; they are all in mourning, and everyone mourns differently.
In McLean County, Calhoun Cemetery, just off Kentucky Highway 81, will also see more foot traffic Monday, when McLean County Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 5415 holds its Memorial Day service.
Even before entering the grounds, which were founded in 1858, visitors can spot a war memorial erected by the VFW which includes a number of McLean Countians who “made the supreme sacrifice” during the First World War, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terror in Iraq.
The grounds are overseen by John Howard, the cemetery’s sexton, and a committee appointed by the town of Calhoun that meets when needed.
Winfred Williams, who served as custodian of Calhoun Cemetery for more than 20 years before retiring in 2015, said Memorial Day preparations took about a week to ensure everything was in perfect condition, weather permitting. allowed it.
“It was a great day,” he said. “The most important thing is to try and get it mowed and look really good for that day, because that’s when you have a crowd of people there. Naturally, everyone who deals with it wants it to look as good as possible.
But the work does not stop there. Williams said he used to stay on that day to help answer questions, especially when people were trying to locate the graves of loved ones.
The cemetery has between 3,600 and 3,800 graves on its 15-acre property, with some of its earliest burials dating to around 1856 – two years before the property was officially founded; with approximately 18 Civil War veterans buried and “several hundred” veterans in total.
The cemetery hosted about 36 interments in 2021 and has had nine since January.
While Williams worked on the cemetery, his wife, Norma Williams, became involved in the research and recording aspects after selling their business, McLean County Locker, in the early 1990s.
Williams enjoyed his time supervising the grounds because of his personal connections.
“I liked it because I have a lot of friends who (are) buried there and family buried there too,” he said. “And (our business) was next door, and I looked at it and always thought it was a nice cemetery for a small county or a small town, really. It always interested me.”
Williams was also able to connect with people who visited.
“For some people you can see every day, and some people you might only see on Memorial Day,” he said. “Some may come every five or ten years; it’s amazing how people look at it when a loved one passes away.
And Williams is delighted to see how he has been able to be kept at the top level.
“John did a good job,” he said. “Good to see…that they have it in good shape.” So it makes you feel good.
Don Wilkins, [email protected], 270-691-7299.