Steve Harris, president of the Greenleaf Cemetery Association, readily recalls Tisha Pruett’s words in the 35th District Courtroom in January 2018.
Pruett said she’d find a job and dig ditches if necessary, to repay the cemetery association the money she stole — about $23,000 — from the organization in 2014 and 2015. "I want to pay the money back. I want to make it right," Pruett said in court that day.
District Judge Steve Ellis ordered Pruett to make restitution as he sentenced Pruett to eight years in prison for the theft.
Harris was notified by prison officials in mid-July that Pruett, now 48, is being released after serving 2 1/2 years. And while Harris has little hope the Pruett will repay the money, he still has a message for her.
"We’ve received no restitution from her," Harris said. "We did receive that small restitution from her church. So we’ve heard nothing from her. No correspondence, no restitution. We as the board, it’s our responsibility to encourage her to make good on her word on that day."
Harris was referring to a check for $2,400 the Greenleaf Cemetery Association received from Moody Leon Methodist Church in February 2018. Pruett’s husband, Josh, is pastor of that church and the Moody First United Methodist Church, Josh Pruett’s Facebook page states.
Harris said he’ll check with prosecutor Elisha Bird or other authorities to find out if anything can be done to compel additional restitution. "I don’t know the protocol," Harris said. "I don’t want it to be harassment. I have an ounce of hope that she’ll follow through on this."
Josh and Tisha Pruett did not respond to a Bulletin message seeking comment.
"The fact that we’ve worked so hard, the community has supported us, the city has stepped up their support as well — that’s the only reason we’ve been able to maintain and to make improvements," Harris said. "We’re still not out of the woods financially speaking. It’s still a struggle."
While the theft from the cemetery association — which occurred while Pruett was working as office manager at the historic site — was a near-death-blow to the cemetery’s finances, that hasn’t been the only factor.
"The virus has cost us dearly financially," Harris said. "We’ve had no donations since this (coronavirus pandemic) started. And on top of that, with the drying up of donations, we haven’t been able to have our annual events that have become well known and well attended."
Harris was referring to three fundraising events that did not happen because of the virus: the Mother’s Day butterfly release, The Father’s Day car show and Robert E. Howard Days.
"The only two events that, most likely, we’ll be able to have this year are going to be the Blessing of the Animals in October and the annual Holiday Trail of Lights," Harris said. "So we’re depending on those two events to raise a substantial amount of money for the cemetery association so that we can continue to maintain the cemetery and replace equipment as it needs to be replaced."
Cemetery association board member Steve Puckett said plans are also being made for the cemetery to participate in a national fundraising effort called Wreaths Across America. Wreaths will be available for purchase for the graves of veterans buried at Greenleaf and other cemeteries, Puckett said.
"We act as a conduit," Puckett said. "For every $15 wreath we sell, (the cemetery association) gets $5.
Additional information on the wreaths project will be coming out later, Puckett said.
Harris said the goal is to sell and place a wreath at every military grave at Greenleaf. "If we sell 1,750 wreaths at $15 for each wreath, the association will raise $8,750," Harris said. "It’s a lofty goal but we really believe the community can help make this a reality."
The cemetery association will also be asking the City of Brownwood to increase the amount of its annual subsidy to the association, Harris said.
If the city does increase its subsidy, the hope is to have enough funds to hire a part-time office manager. "Since 2017, we haven’t had the money to pay an office manager even part-time," Harris said. "It’s been volunteer-run."
The only reason the cemetery association has funds to operate is the lack of a paid office manager, Harris said.
"We’ve done all the cost cutting that we can do," Harris said. "That’s why we’re reaching out to (Pruett), now that she’s out of prison, to make restitution to the cemetery.
"Our guys are out here in the heat, weed eating and and mowing and maintaining . If they’re able to get out and do that, now that (Pruett) is out, we just expect her to honor her words and her commitment that she made before the judge and all of us in attendance."
Additional information on Greenleaf Cemetery can be found on the cemetery association’s website, www.greenleafcemetery.org and on three Facebook pages: Greenleaf Cemetery, Historic Greenleaf Cemetery and Friends of Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood, Texas.