For Tom Hart of Brownwood, volunteer labor is a matter of pride — and of family ties.
“We are all out here for community pride,” Hart said. “My son (Chris Hart) is buried here and my wife (Gwen Hart) and I come out and work on that plot every month because it’s never kept up to what I think it needs to be.”
Hart was among several volunteers who arrived Saturday morning at Greenleaf Cemetery for a scheduled work day that had, in effect, extended across two weekends after the original work day the previous Saturday was postponed due to the possibility of rain. Some three dozen workers showed up anyway last weekend when the weather turned sunny, but the number was still short of that number as noon approached.
“They said that last week 35 to 40 people came out to work. If we had that many here today we would have the work done by the end of the day,” Hart said.
“I’m a little disappointed that more people don’t come out to help,” said Vonne Cornett, also of Brownwood. “So far it looks like we have a lot of husband and wife teams and family members come out to work, but a lot of them have jobs and could only work so long.”
Cornett, who said the Greenleaf Cemetery volunteers have adopted the name FROG for Friends and Relatives of Greenleaf, was working to right some of the headstones that had fallen over. But that’s heavy work, and it was requiring the work of many hands.
“We were told that it is not the job of the cemetery to re-erect the headstones,” Cornett said. “The thing is, you will be (edging) and uncover a headstone that had fallen over and been totally lost in the tall grass. It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when you make a find like that. It’s like you have just saved someone that would have been lost when you re-erect the headstone. I mean, most of the people buried on this side of the cemetery, if they had children they would have passed on to, and they don’t have anyone to tend their grave other than those like us.”
Hart said it’s embarrassing to have regional media attention because of the cemetery’s condition.
“I think that if you have someone out here, you need to have more pride in what the place looks like,” Hart said. “More money could go into keeping the place up. The Abilene cemetery is just about this size and they have about 10 people working on it all the time. I don’t know where Abilene gets the funds but they do a good job.
“I hate to think about the people from out of town that don’t know about what has been going on here and drive up to find the place looking like this.”
Members of the FROG group stepped forward after the shorthanded staff at Greenleaf Cemetery, a non-for-profit perpetual care cemetery, became overgrown this spring. Heavy rains prompted rapid growth of grass and weeds that maintenance crews could not handle. One volunteer created a Web site for awareness and communication among members, www.savegreenleaf.com, and approached the Brownwood City Council for additional funding.
The cemetery has an endowment, but the interest it generates along with donations haven’t been adequate for its operational needs.
“This is a job that I feel that when I die I will have made a difference,” worker Nan Gentry of Abilene said.