HAZARD — Cheryl Spurlock of Bulan was disheartened to see the condition of Riverside Cemetery. So, about a year ago, she devised a simple, yet clever, plan to restore the cemetery’s beauty.
“I started a Facebook group to try and get people associated with the cemetery together,” Spurlock said, “I didn’t know if it would lead to anything. I’m really surprised we’ve got this far.”
Spurlock has loved ones buried at Riverside, and someday, when her time arrives, Cheryl Spurlock’s name will also be among those etched in marble along that rolling swath of grass. Riverside is, in essence, her family cemetery. But the problems the property has faced over the past couple of years stem from the fact that Riverside Cemetery, as a whole, does not technically belong to any of the families who are laid to rest there. When individual plots are purchased, they become property of the buyer. Therefore, upkeep of the plot also becomes the buyer’s responsibility. When a plot owner passes, that responsibility falls on a relative, or no one at all in some cases.
“Some of the graves have been there a long time, and some of the stones are even buried,” said Spurlock, “And then there are some families who have moved too far away to travel back here regularly. So upkeep is hard. Some people will come and cut the grass on their plots and then maybe cut a few more around them, but there are 8 to 9 thousand people buried at Riverside.”
Located in Wabaco, Riverside Cemetery is one of the largest in the region. The number of folks buried at Riverside is nearly double the number of citizens currently living in Hazard. Prior to Memorial Day this year, the county did some work to try and improve Riverside’s appearance. However, according to Kentucky law, it is not the responsibility of city or county government to maintain the cemetery.
So, if upkeep is not the government’s responsibility, and a large number of people buried at Riverside have no relatives in close proximity, what can possibly be done to maintain the cemetery?
“We’ve started having public meetings, and we are trying to do what has to be done to make Kenneth Hall the cemetery’s official caretaker,” Spurlock said.
Kenneth Hall is in charge of the unsold plots at Riverside, and he has only been associated with the cemetery for a short period of time. Hall is willing to oversee the cemetery’s maintenance, but two obstacles are slowing the process. First of all, there is cost associated with tending to a piece of property as large as Riverside. Secondly, although steps have been taken, Riverside Cemetery has not yet gone through the entire process of becoming an official nonprofit entity. In a situation like the one at Riverside, the process can be tricky. Some of the relatives of those buried at Riverside want to wait until official nonprofit status has been gained before donating money, but in the meantime, the grass at the cemetery continues to grow. This is where Cheryl Spurlock’s Facebook group has proven to be extremely beneficial. The group allows for communication among Hall and the family members of folks buried at Riverside.
“We can bid it out or whatever works for everyone,” Hall said about the grass cutting in a post on Spurlock’s Facebook group, “I’m just trying to get enough to at least get it cut before our next meeting, if not its going to be over waist high and it will cost even more to cut it.”
Through communication with Hall on Spurlock’s Facebook group, some of the family members have chipped in to help pay for lawn-care at the site, whereas others have volunteered to cut the grass on some of the graves. Questions and comments are regularly posted to the Facebook group. One member of the group is setting up a live video feed so people from out of town will still be bale to participate in the next public meeting.
The next meeting to discuss upkeep of Riverside Cemetery is scheduled for July 22, 6:00 p.m. at the Perry County Public Library in Hazard. Mike Roper is the attorney, who has received the task of managing the legalities involved with designating an official overseer of Riverside. During the last meeting over Riverside’s upkeep, Roper gave a statement on video, which is posted in the Riverside Cemetery Facebook group.
“According to a letter from the Attorney General’s office,” said Roper, “the Riverside Cemetery is owned by owners of the lots; therefore, not owned by any individual. According to the Attorney General’s office, every person is responsible for maintaining their own cemetery plot. That creates a problem because it is hard to get everybody together. Some will do the work. Some won’t. What we’re trying to do is get everybody together that has spots, so that they can all appoint one person that will be the overseer of the cemetery. When that happens, I think everybody is going to feel better about their loved ones being buried there.”
Cheryl Spurlock noted that there will be further discussion at the next public meeting about establishment of an official caretaker and the setting up of a trust to help fund Riverside’s needs. The Riverside Cemetery Facebook group is closed to the general public. Anyone, who wants to join the group, can search Riverside Cemetery, Perry County, KY, and then request to be added. As the administrator, Spurlock accepts member requests. Once a new member is accepted, that person will then be able to interact with the rest of the group.
“I just want to see it taken care of,” said Spurlock, “Nobody had interest last year, but now it feels like we are making progress. Who knows; maybe someday, somebody will say this little Facebook group helped.”
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.