Oak Ridge Cemetery workday set

When she was young, Wendy Lynch’s grandparents lived near Oak Ridge Cemetery, which Lynch remembers as “beautiful.”

In mid-August, she was shortcutting up 10th Street, when she saw tall grass that was threatening to smother the old graveyard.

She was so taken aback she throttled down and turned into one of the cemetery driveways to confirm the impression that neglect had taken hold.

It led to a website posting that became the impetus for a volunteer workday at the cemetery Saturday, beginning 9 a.m. – a landscaping revival.

“This used to be gorgeous,” said Michele Craig, a neighborhood resident who was riding slowly Thursday through the 22-acre cemetery’s serpentine driveways. “[Now] it’s sad.”

Despite allergies and the usual lack of need to rise early on weekends, Craig plans to awaken her three-person family to work in Saturday’s crew, which Lynch estimates could number 40 or 50.

When Lynch posted pictures of the tall grass at Oak Ridge to share her initial shock, it generated the usual complaints and blame at first, she said.

Then someone suggested that rather than complain, they should do something about the problem.

Harry Benton of Altoona responded by creating a Facebook group “Volunteers unite to clean up Altoona PA cemeteries,” she said.

“That’s where the event came from,” Lynch said.

There were 129 group members Thursday evening.

About 50 have signed up to work, and about 10 others have said they plan to come – although Lynch said you never get 100 percent, and she doesn’t want anyone to back out because there may be enough or diminish the sense of urgency to get something done.

One person plans to travel from Ohio, one from Perry County and one from Carlisle, she said.

Others from farther away are contributing in ways they can – paying for necessities like a portable toilet and gasoline cards worth a total of $125 to keep mowers and weed trimmers running, Lynch said.

Many volunteers will be bringing their own mowers and trimmers.

In many cases, the motivation is a family member buried there, Lynch said.

Lynch herself cleared the work plans with Jane Carothers, the lawyer who represents the moribund nonprofit that controls the cemetery, she said.

That group will require participants to sign liability waivers.

Lynch has promised the event will be organized and respectful of the gravestones.

The cemetery is derelict because the organization has no income or the means of generating any, Lynch said.

There are about 12 burials per year, but those are for members of families that already own plots, and don’t represent sales, said Lynch and Carothers, who spoke with the Mirror last year about the cemetery’s problems.

The cemetery has no staff, so it needs to outsource the burial labor, which eliminates an income opportunity, Lynch said.

The cemetery doesn’t generate much from a trust fund, because interest flow is small, Carothers said last year.

After Saturday, Lynch and others plan to discuss “a long-term solution,” she said.

Altoona native Jen Kasman, daughter of the late local historian John Conlon, looked at Saturday’s workday with a long-term perspective.

“A group of basically strangers who got together…and decided to make a difference through hard work,” she wrote in an email. “Helping [to] bring Altoona back to the way it was.”