A soaking rain, the sound of a morning train on nearby tracks — and class was in session Tuesday morning at Greenleaf Cemetery.

The class: Death and Dying, taught by associate professor of criminal justice and sociology Lynn Humeniuk at Howard Payne University.

Humeniuk and her students gathered inside a large Greenleaf workshed to kick off a class project in which they will spend 10 hours each this semester working at tasks in the cemetery such as painting and weed eating. Then the students will write papers in which they document their work and “the things that touched their hearts at the cemetery,” Humeniuk said.

Steve Harris, president of the Greenleaf Cemetery Association board, talked to the students about the historical importance of the “beautiful and serene” cemetery and about the cemetery’s efforts to recover from the near-financial disaster of recent years.

Also in attendance was Brownwood City Manager Emily Crawford, who talked about the importance of the students leaving their marks.

“What you’ll see here and what you have heard about today, is people who have left their their mark on our community,” Crawford said. “There’s always something that’s going to prohibit you, if your let it, from really investing yourself in your community, in your churches, in your friendships.

“Don’t let life keep you from making your mark. There will always be challenges.”

Humeniuk said she has taught the Death and Dying class every other fall for the past several years.

“When Steve Harris came and talked about the person who gave $30,000 to start the university, you should have seen the students’ faces. He’s at this cemetery, and they’re like, oh my gosh, there’s a person out there who is helping me sit at my desk right now,” Humeniuk said. 

“It made it very real for them.”

While the class is called Death and Dying, the class uses a book called Death and Dying, Life and Living, Humeniuk said. She said the class is an upper level sociology, social work and psychology class.

“We just talk about how every day is so important,” Humeniuk said. “We’re not promised tomorrow. If we don’t make the best of today, we’ve wasted today. Of all the criminal justice and sociology classes I teach, this is my absolute favorite because I think it’s the most impactful.”