TAYLORS ISLAND — Volunteers from around the region joined congregants of New Revived United Methodist Church on June 19 to restore its adjoining cemetery. The buzz of chainsaws blended the rumbling of a small excavator, as crews cut and removed timber, stumps and debris that had fallen on the resting places.
The effort was led by Eddie Dean, who operates the Lower Shore Cemetery Preservation Organization, a group that has been active in finding some of the more obscure — sometimes simply hidden — grave sites in the Dorchester, and giving them the care Mr. Dean and his associates believe they deserve.
Asked why the strenuous and time-consuming work is done, Mr. Dean paused for a moment before saying, “How couldn’t you?”
On a mission
The group’s social media site describes its work, saying, “The focus of this organization is the conservation and preservation of historic cemeteries on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. Advocacy through outreach promoting education in restoration and documentation of these sacred burial grounds.”
That sense of mission has taken Mr. Dean throughout the region. Sometimes, it leads to graveyards like New Revived UMC’s, which are in relatively good shape, and at other times, to spots that are nearly invisible to the eye or almost lost in the records.
The cemeteries, with the few words and dates on the headstones, hold not only the remains of ancestors, but information on their lives and situations. Some are the simplest markers, made by pouring concrete into frames and tracing a name into the wet material.
Others share clues on the work done by the deceased, such as that of one of the Opher brothers in Hargis. His stone shows that he was a veteran of the Second World War, who served in the 3515 Quartermaster Truck Company.
A fallen tree or overgrown grass could hide the record of a serviceman’s time in the army, and eventually cause his contribution to be forgotten.
Call in the professionals
But Mr. Opher won’t be forgotten, not if Destin Mosko and his father Robert can help it. The two men operate Cemetery Conservators, based near York, and the elder Mosko is a member of the Coalition to Preserve Maryland Burial sites, as is Mr. Dean.
The Moskos were up and driving before dawn on Saturday, donating their time and equipment to preserve the site. “I actually love this,” Destin said, as he packed earth around a stone marking the resting place of Amelia Keene. “I’m never leaving this.”
He had finished repaired another marker, for Rosie Dunnock, by using epoxy to join two halves of the broken stone. Now, Ms. Dunnock, who passed away in 1958 at the age of 72, once again has a proper stone at her resting place.
“It gets you closer to the Lord, doing his work,” Destin said, checking Ms. Keene’s stone with a level. “I want to do good for other people who don’t have a voice.”
It takes a team
It’s an ambitious task to make real progress on a site in just one day. That’s where the organizational skills of Mr. Dean come into play.
There were volunteers on Saturday pulling weeds, operating heavy equipment, cooking, playing music in the band Marianne & the Misfits, and fulfilling many other roles. “There’s no way it can be done by one person,” Mr. Dean said.
Add to that the expense of hiring a crew and all their gear, and it might be too much for a small, country church. But sometimes, it can all line up in a way that leads to significant progress.
Pastor Keith Beckett was on hand Saturday with his family and members of his flock. He said about three weeks ago, a parishioner spotted a man in a white truck — turned out, it was Mr. Dean — parked at the cemetery.
Mr. Dean happened to be in the area, saw the graveyard and was thinking about adding it to his list of projects. After speaking initially to the Rev. Beckett, and then presenting his ideas for the free project to the members of the church, things got underway quickly.
“I feel blessed for someone to take their time,” the Rev. Beckett said, emphasizing his belief that the work was a gift from Heaven. “I don’t look at that as a coincidence.”
Following the heavy, outdoor work, the volunteers relaxed with lunch in the church’s hall. They discussed government support for similar projects with Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), State Senator Addie Eckardt (R-37), and community activists.
“We made a huge leap forward,” Mr. Dean posted on social media afterwards. “The amount of political power we had at our event was amazing. Thank you, Senator Addie Eckardt and Congressman Andy Harris for attending. To have this group sit down and have an hour-long discussion about Dorchester County cemeteries and how we all can work together to preserve these sacred burial grounds was huge.”
There was even leftover energy — and food — that continued to help others.
Mr. Dean said on June 19, “We had enough delicious food today to serve everyone including leaving food for a church luncheon tomorrow. Still plenty left over. We donated to the Cambridge Salvation Army Shelter and my dear friend Beverly June McKelvey delivered it to their doorstep. We squeezed every bit of goodness out of today, that’s for sure.”
The generosity and fellowship seen on Saturday touched the church’s pastor. “We still have people in the world who do that,” the Rev. Beckett said. “What more can you ask for?”
Bay to Bay News, Sunday, June 20, 2021
By Dave Ryan