The affection and reverence for Brownwood’s Greenleaf Cemetery was unmistakable among the small group that gathered at the historic 100-acre burial ground on a recent chilly morning.
Present were Steve Harris, president of the Greenleaf Cemetery Association board of directors; Jason Roman, the association’s newest board member and its vice president; Steve Puckett, who is helping Keep Brownwood Beautiful (KBB) in that organization’s partnership with the cemetery and volunteering as office manager; Freda Day, who formerly worked as office manager and is now doing research on those who are buried there; and Cary Perrin, program coordinator for KBB.
Each of the five has different roles in the perpetual care cemetery’s slow-but-steady re-emergence from financial life support, an accomplishment made possible by fundraisers, donations from individuals and businesses, and partnerships with organizations including KBB. And while there is plenty of good news to celebrate — including the cemetery’s recent receipt of a $5,000 Beadel Foundation grant to help construct an 800-square-foot chapel — the cemetery still needs the community’s help, Harris said.
“We definitely could not have made the move forward without the community’s help for the last year,” Harris said. “This time last year, we didn’t even have the funds to pay our limited staff without Freda soliciting donations. Times are still financially tough, but we are moving slowly in the right direction.
“The growing season is upon us, and it will stretch our very limited resources thin to keep up with the perpetual care. This mostly new board is not only cleaning up the mess from the past, we are charged with keeping thing things current and moving the cemetery forward. It’s a very tall order for us volunteers who have a deep love for Greenleaf. It is doable, but it is also extremely tough and very time consuming.”
But the efforts, Harris added, are “well worth it.”
The “mess” Harris referred to included the theft of at least $23,000 from cemetery funds by a woman who worked as the office manager. Tisha Pruett, the former office manager, was sentenced to eight years in prison for the theft.
The cemetery lost its nonprofit status because Pruett neglected to file tax documents, and there were multiple issues arising from previous business practices.
Eight fundraisers scheduled this year
The cemetery is preparing for the first of its eight fundraisers of the year — the Blessing of the Animals, which will be from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, April 15.
Pet owners will be invited to drive through a portion of the cemetery with their pets, and they will stop at a designated location to receive a greeting, a blessing card, a bottled water and a cat or dog treat. There is no entry fee but donations will be appreciated, Harris said.
“The fundraisers are very important for the continuation of Greenleaf Cemetery, for our perpetual care fund, in order to keep the cemetery looking good, mowed, weed-eated, cleaned,” Harris said.
Thanks to the efforts of several companies including Kohler, the cemetery is beginning to address long-neglected infrastructure issues.
Kohler is donating a product called cull — crushed porcelain from toilets manufactured at Kohler that did not meet Kohler’s standards and deemed as reject. Cull is being trucked in and installed on the parking area near the cemetery’s front entrance, and it will also be used in landscaping at some of the grave sites.
The parking lot project has involved the efforts of other companies — Waldrop Construction, Thornhill Trucking, Vulcan Materials and Holland Hauling, Harris said.
“We’re just trying to improve things out here a little bit at a time,” Roman said. “We’re headed definitely in the right direction.”
The cemetery is moving toward regaining its tax exempt status thanks to the assistance of local certified public accountant Julia Taylor, Harris said.
‘We just say thank you’
“We’ve come 100 percent from where we were this time last year, thanks to the help of partners in the community, fundraisers, Keep Brownwood Beautiful, corporate sponsors that are helping us — all the people that are knowing and love Greenleaf Cemetery for all these years,” Harris said. “Once we reached out to the public for help, all the $10, $15, $20, $100 donations … we’ve turned a corner, getting the accounting straightened up, the office, the management.
“ … There’s so much that’s gone on in a short amount of time, it’s hard to put it all in a short soundbite, but we just say thank you, thanks to the work of so many volunteers and so many partners in our community.”
Perrin said KBB is partnering with the cemetery in landscaping, grant applications and other activities. “KBB”s partnering because we’re nonprofit, and so our mission statement goes right along with with what’s happening at Greenleaf,” Perrin said.
’So many positive things’
Day said there had been “negative things” happening with the cemetery in previous years. “There are so many positive things going on right now, and one of the things I really want is to draw people in so they will come and explore,” Day said.
Day noted a nearby statue of an angel, located at the burial site of Brownwood pioneer Brooke Smith and his family. “The story I’ve heard is that the statue is exactly the size the (Brooke Smith’s) daughter was when she died,” Day said. “In the end, I’d like to put a book together about the cemetery. In the meantime I’m going to start blogging on our website about the history of these different people.”
Day said she’s researching what will be part of a historical trail at the cemetery. “Were not only doing the founding fathers and mothers — we’re going to be also highlighting people you don’t know are out here,” she said. “The dash is what’s important.”
Harris added, “The dash between the birth date and dash date — it’s so empty, but it’s so full. That person lived that life, and it’s our responsibility to tell their story.”
The cemetery, board and association “are charged with taking care of the cemetery, and that means taking care of the families and loved ones that are buried, and those that come back to celebrate or mourn their lives,” Harris said. “Everybody out here is important to us — from those who had the least to those who had the most, those with the larges stones, those with the smallest stones or no stones.”