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Richville cemetery needs caregivers

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RICHVILLE — Richville Wayside Cemetery Association is considering dissolution because it cannot find volunteers willing to take over the resting place of many of the community’s earliest settlers.

The cemetery is not in a financial bind, but those who have handled its care are ready to step down.

“I’ve been doing it for 30 years. It means a lot to us that we might have to abandon it to the town,” association President Timothy L. Stevens said. “People are just afraid of getting involved. It’s a lack of interest.”

When the association has a meeting, the only people who attend are Mr. Stevens and his wife, Susan M., and Secretary/Treasurer Sharon Bush and her husband, Thomas. Mr. and Mrs. Bush are moving away.

“That kind of puts us in a bind,” Mr. Stevens said.

Abandonment of cemeteries that fall under the jurisdiction of the state Department of State has picked up in recent years.

Some 172 have been abandoned since 1970. Since 2001, on average there have been eight cemeteries abandoned per year, spokesman Edison Alban said in an email.

“Abandonment of a cemetery is not a voluntary event. It is the result of circumstances such as a shortage of funds to keep operating or the inability of its board of trustees to act,” Mr. Alban wrote. “Once a cemetery is deemed abandoned, the duty of the town to take over the care of the cemetery is automatic. The statute only requires that the grounds be maintained. However, a town would also be expected to honor the right of those who have unused burial lots. A town may choose to continue to sell lots and continue all normal cemetery activities.”

Wayside Cemetery has upwards of 1,000 graves, but only about 20 lots left that could be sold. Ironically, after never selling a lot during his presidency of the association, Mr. Stevens recently fielded an inquiry.

“Here it is, 30 years, and I have to look up how to do it,” he said.

A lack of interest in the maintenance of the cemetery may be because people with relatives there no longer remain in the area or have died off. If Mr. Stevens walks among the gravestones on Memorial Day, there are few flags flying. There are Revolutionary War and Civil War-era markers.

“It’s so old,” Mr. Stevens said.

The association will have a reorganizational meeting with discussion of abandonment at 6 p.m. May 23 at Richville United Church. A representative of the State Department’s Division of Cemeteries is expected, as is DeKalb Supervisor Larry D. Denesha.

“My plans are to attend the meeting and find out what direction folks want to go,” Mr. Denesha said. “We don’t want to make any plans until they’re necessary.”

The association cares for the cemetery through various accounts on which it draws interest. If the association dissolves, it will leave the town with its equipment and about $32,000 for maintenance.

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