Two employees of Greenleaf Cemetery were directing their tractors between the monuments, tombstones and trees of Brownwood’s oldest cemetery Saturday afternoon, trying to catch up on grounds maintenance that had been postponed because of heavy spring rains.
Numerous portions of the cemetery sport a fresh manicure. But other portions still need mowing — with grass, dandelions and weeds waiting to be cut.
“We haven’t been able to mow in six weeks,” cemetery manager Pat Clark said Friday afternoon. “People are complaining, and I don’t blame them at all. But what have we had this spring — 19 inches of rain? It’s just me and two guys here (keeping the grounds). We really need two more people to handle over 90 acres.”
The soggy grounds that have delayed routine care have compounded an ongoing financial problem the cemetery has been battling for several years.
“Our main problem is we don’t have enough funds,” Clark said. “Our annual budget is a little over $100,000, and we have a payroll of $75,000 for four people (including an office attendant). So we’re not getting rich.”
Jerry C. Spain, vice president of the Greenleaf Cemetery board, sent a letter last week to people with an interest in the cemetery explaining its situation and asking for help in a fund-raising campaign.
“Greenleaf Cemetery is again making a request for help in raising funds for repairs to the office building as well as general cemetery care,” Spain wrote. “Additional help is needed, but no funds are available. We are presently caring for the cemetery with two permanent workers, and our cemetery manager works along side them. This is an almost impossible task for an almost 95-plus- acre cemetery.”
Two major donations last year that totaled $15,000 “allowed us to squeak by,” Clark said, “but we can’t always depend on that. Basically where we need help is in increasing our perpetual care fund.”
Investments on that $650,000 account are earning over 4 percent currently, which isn’t bad compared to recent years, but it still generates revenues in the range of only $26,000, Clark said.
Other major sources of revenue are fees charged for opening and closing graves, but deaths and entombments at the cemetery have been trending down, he said. Some of the latter can be traced to more families choosing cremation.
Clark said he and the board would also like to make renovations to the cemetery office, but funds are not available.
Several historic markers are placed at graves in the cemetery, including those of Noah T. Byars, the pioneer Baptist preacher at whose shop in Washington-on-the-Brazos the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed in 1836; and of Robert E. Howard, the fantasy fiction writer who lived in Cross Plains in the early 20th century. These graves frequently attract visitors from throughout the United States and Europe, in addition to the families of hundreds of others who are buried there.
Spain’s letter said the spring storms, in addition to bringing excessive rain, felled several old trees in the cemetery.
“The grass is growing faster than we can keep up with it,” Spain’s letter states. “We ask that association members please have patience with us as we are moving as fast as we can with our limited resources. If you can help, please do so. We also have family members buried here, so we do care.”
The original five acres for the cemetery were donated in 1873 by Brownwood pioneer Greenleaf Fisk, who is buried on its grounds, according to history provided by board President Ronnie Lappe on the Web site www.brownwoodtx.com. By 1929, funds were collected for a perpetual care fund and the cemetery was incorporated as a nonprofit organization.
“The interest off of the perpetual care fund is no longer sufficient to take care of the expenses of the cemetery,” Lappe wrote. “We need to hire more workers in order to keep up with the demands of the upkeep of the cemetery. What we need is a major fund raiser to double the perpetual care cemetery fund so that we can increase the income and also make sure that the cemetery is able to survive into the future.”