Grant funds help local cemeteries

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By Calen McKinney

"Show me your cemeteries, and I will tell you what kind of people you have."

-Benjamin Franklin

They're our final resting places and where loved ones gather throughout the years to remember the dead. Many will meet there today.

They're also the focus of a five-member committee created to help preserve the nearly 350 local burial grounds.

The Taylor County Cemetery Preservation Committee was formed during former Taylor County Judge/Executive Paul Patton's administration.

Local historian Betty Jane Gorin-Smith said the Committee was formed after Kentucky's legislators passed a law to create a state cemetery fund.

Gorin-Smith said the money placed in that fund has since been awarded to various counties in the state for cemetery preservation.

Every county in Kentucky was eligible to apply for some of that funding, she said, as long as the county's judge/executive appointed a cemetery board in the county to supervise and complete grant applications and projects.

Patton appointed such a committee about four years ago. The group meets three times each year. Its meetings are open to the public.

Current Committee members include chairwoman Barbara Skaggs and Gorin, Barry Allen, Joyce Johnson and James DeWitt. Other rotating members include Sam Wickliffe and John Kessler.

Gorin-Smith, a former chairwoman, said the Committee must include those of diverse races and political parties.

She said the Committee has applied for several grants since its inception and been awarded several thousands of dollars in funding to help preserve and update a dozen cemeteries in Taylor County.

A few of those cemeteries include Crown Hill, Oddfellow, Tebbs Bend, Bright, Cloyd, Hiestand-Chandler-Gilmore and Tallow Creek.

According to Skaggs, the Committee received state grants in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Taylor County has received more than $42,000 in grant money, Skaggs stated in an e-mailed response, and has used that money to have several cemeteries cleaned and fenced, identifying signs erected and stones repaired and replaced.

Skaggs was out of town last week and could not be reached for further comment.

Gorin-Smith said the grants must be matched by in-kind labor, and cemeteries receiving the grants must be nonprofit.

She said Taylor County is home to about 333 cemeteries. After subtracting church and for-profit cemeteries, she said, Taylor County has about 275 small farm cemeteries that depend on families and community members to pay for their upkeep and preservation.

Gorin-Smith said the grant money can't be used for ordinary maintenance, such as mowing, and must be used for permanent improvements such as signage, fencing, filling in sunken graves and repairing or resetting tombstones.

Gorin-Smith said those who know of cemeteries in need of repairs and want them to be considered by the Committee for a preservation grant must first contact one of the Committee members.

She said those representing a cemetery should attend one of the Committee's meetings and explain why their particular cemetery is worthy of a grant. The Committee will then vote on that cemetery, she said, and, if it is approved, the cemetery will be placed on a waiting list of cemeteries to apply for grant funding when it becomes available. She said there are nearly a dozen cemeteries currently on that list now.

For now, Gorin-Smith said, the Committee is waiting until the state has funding available to give to cemetery restoration. The Committee will continue to meet and take applications for when that happens, she said.

Gorin-Smith said she is interested in cemetery restoration because several of Taylor County's first settlers are buried in small cemeteries.

"I think you should honor the dead," she said. "[I feel] strongly about honoring their work and accomplishments."

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.