Despite a morning of cold and drizzly weather, about 50 volunteers recently turned out to do some heavy lifting at the community’s 107-year-old cemetery.
They were part of the annual spring cleanup at Ruskin Memorial Cemetery Park, which always involves serious sprucing. But this year’s effort included the removal of unsanctioned borders, rocks, statuary and elaborate remembrances impeding mowing and upkeep of the grounds.
Volunteers also cleared away loose stones, landscaping tiles, extra vases and a plethora of decorations found to be noncompliant with cemetery by-laws.
There were complaints the cemetery was becoming somewhat of an eyesore.
“A number of families with gravesites at the cemetery were concerned about the deteriorating condition of the property,” said Tom Pyche, interim director of the eight-member cemetery park board.
“While we respect what some people had done with the gravesites of family members, we had to address the ongoing problems,” he said.
“Anything that wasn’t of monument material within the confines of a plot itself was removed,” said board member Frank Alter. “We probably hauled away three truckloads of rock and concrete, and 2,500 pounds of other materials.”
The board had been talking about doing something to address the issues for some time, and last fall decided to act. A cleanup notice was posted at the park’s entrance in November, and then notes were placed on individual sites on Jan. 15 to give folks who needed to remove items plenty of time to do so.
“I received about 10 complaints, but most people understood,” he said.
Pyche said about two-thirds of the work needing to be done on the 10-acre site was completed during the March 2 event, the fifth cleanup sponsored by the Ruskin Woman’s Club, which took the cemetery under its wings in June 2011.
As soon as the board gives approval, Pyche plans to finish clearing noncompliant sites in the remaining section of the cemetery.
“The sooner the better,” he said.
Once that work is complete, the cemetery will be much easier to maintain, said Deb Bonebrake, a member of the cemetery board and woman’s club.
“This was done to make mowing more manageable and time efficient,” she said, adding that Ed Parrish of Ruskin does much of the work pro bono. “We have limited funds to pay him or to do other projects, like sanding and painting the gazebo or fixing the well for grass irrigation.”
Donations are sorely needed, she said. “We’re also looking for a few new board members.”
As always, the cemetery’s future is about volunteerism. It’s people like Cheryl Sims and her family that make a difference.
Sims brought her two school-age daughters along to help with the recent cleanup. They raked away fallen leaves and dusted off grave stones and markers.
“We’re here to be part of the community effort. We have family and friends buried here,” she said. “And even those not related to us deserve to have a nice, clean place to rest.”
Ruskin Memorial Cemetery Park is at First Street Southwest and Manatee Drive. Its next cleanup will be in the fall.
To make a tax-deductible donation to the Ruskin Memorial Cemetery Park Fund, email firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by BMO Harris Bank in Apollo Beach. For further information, call (813) 892-7235.