Helping Hands: Students give neglected cemetery some TLC

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By Janell Oliver

The annual Pewee Valley Cemetery Cleanup project began when a student from Covenant Classical Academy noticed two things while walking along Maple Avenue: the Confederate Cemetery across the street was immaculate, but the other cemetery, known as “the Black cemetery” was grossly neglected.
Weeds, sticks and fallen tree limbs ran rampant, barren patches of grass shone between the headstones, dead bundles of flowers were windblown and forgotten.
It was an eerie sight.
When David Harris told his mother, a teacher at Covenant Classical Academy, an idea was born for a service project.
Friday was the second year for the Pewee Valley African-American Cemetery Cleanup.
At 12:30 p.m., a group of 40 elementary students from Classical Covenant School as well as parents and friends congregated with plastic trash bags, shovels, rakes, wheel-barrows, potting soil, and flowers.
Christie Leanord, an early childhood development specialist at Covenant Classical, said the school requires community service projects quarterly and that all the students participate in the cemetery cleanup.
“Kindergarteners through tenth graders are out here doing their share,” she said.
Noni Scherer, a volunteer and grandmother of one of the students, sees the value of the project.
“I think it’s great that they do this,” she said. “If I would have known about it last year, I would have helped out. It’s just a shame this cemetery has gotten so run-down over the years.”
Walter Gales, the official cemetery caretaker, took over two years ago as a volunteer when the previous caretaker, a member of his church, Pewee Valley First Baptist, sought him out as her replacement. But Gales says there is only so much he can do without the support of the community. 
“I have 17 grandchildren and I am a very busy man. A few times a year we hold meetings at local churches and ask for support from people who have family members buried here. They show pretty good support, but it’s not enough,” he said.
Walter Gales says he has asked the city of Pewee Valley for financial support to care for the cemetery, but the city does not offer that type of assistance to graveyards.
The Confederate Cemetery across the street is tended by the Women’s Club of Pewee Valley.  Volunteers from Covenant Classical Academy helped tidy the cemetery by clearing away dead flowers, sticks, fallen tree limbs, raking grass and leaves, hauling dirt, leveling out hilly variants with shovels, and planting flowers in key locations. Walter Gales says it is nice to have the support of the Covenant Classical Academy as they have expedited the cleanup process, a heavy burden for a grandfather.
 “We are really blessed that they have been so generous,” he said.
Among those buried in the Pewee Valley African-American Cemetery include Gales’ own relatives, including his grandmother, mother, father, and brother.
“A lot of people don’t realize that this is an active cemetery,” said Gales. “In fact, we had a young woman buried here last year, which is even more of a reason to keep it in good condition.”
While some children balk at the idea of stepping foot in a graveyard, Christie Leanord said the children from Covenant Classical Academy do not.
“The Pewee Valley African-American Cleanup project has been very beneficial and rewarding to the children at all age-levels. They love coming out here,” she said.

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