A year into establishing Friends of Maple Grove, an organization that helps restore and maintain the Maple Grove Cemetery in Richmond, group member Judy Greene-Baker said the group has made ample strides in restoring the cemetery, but their work is far from over.

The Maple Grove Cemetery sits on five to seven acres and dates back to the late 19th century with around 1,600 people buried there. Some are Buffalo soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen and nearly 250 veterans that represent all wars leading up to Vietnam. As the largest African-American cemetery in Madison County, many residents have family members resting there.

The group got together after Greene-Baker was approached by a friend who had inherited the cemetery and had been working on restoring it and reached out for help.

“You know I am retired now,” she recalled saying, “I would love to volunteer … Let’s just get right on it.”

At the beginning, the group met once a month to get things organized, and now that they are settled, the group, of which anyone can be a member, meets quarterly in February, May, August and November. The group also holds regular clean-up days at the cemetery.

The first clean-up day included volunteers from the African American Veterans in Madison County, led by 1st Sgt. Booker Allen. They spent the day cutting down bushes, trees and overgrown areas.

“This is what really helped it first start looking like a cemetery again,” she said.

From there, the group started looking at things they knew were problem areas, like leveling the uneven ground, restoring and repairing headstones, repairing the road to the cemetery, giving it proper signage and organizing the group to prepare it for the future by setting up a perpetual fund and becoming a non-profit.

She said that because the cemetery doesn't have a perpetual fund, the Friends of Maple Grove decided it was necessary to create one, because most of the members of the group are in their 60s and won’t be able to help upkeep the site much longer.

“We can’t do this forever," Greene-Baker smiled. “We knew we needed to get that perpetual fund done, and we knew that we needed to start doing some restoration work, to ensure that the cemetery is restored back to what it once was and to certainly maintain it in the future when we may no longer be able to do that.”

As of now, the only source of funding for the cemetery is through donations, which mostly go toward paying the cemetery’s $5,800 mowing bill.

Additionally, the group plans to have 49 headstones repaired, which will initially cost about $5,600.

Friends of Maple Grove is also in the process of filing with the CPA to become a nonprofit organization in order to receive more charitable funds.

The Madison County Historical Society is also a friend to the cemetery, having donated both time and money to help restore and maintain the resting place.

The historical society was present at the most recent clean-up day last weekend with several representatives and students to volunteer. The group presented the Friends of Maple Grove with a $500 check to help repair headstones.

Sharon Graves, the president of the Madison County Historical Society, said they got involved after a MCHS board member brought in a previous Register article that described the group’s hopes to clean up the site.

After getting out to the cemetery and sitting in on a meeting of the Friends of Maple Grove, she was in agreement to help do their part.

Graves, who is a genealogist, said maintaining Maple Grove and the headstones is important to keep the connection with loved ones and history alike.

“You lose that connection, you lose that link, and these are people’s families, and when these people’s families die out, there’s no one to take care of (the cemeteries), and you have a lot of overgrown cemeteries in the county … and we want to help if we can,” she said.

For Greene-Baker, and many other African Americans in Madison County, the cemetery is home to many people’s family members, including her own grandmother who lived to be 107. She said that making sure she can bring her family there to share their history is extremely important.

“To me, there is nothing sadder than a cemetery that is overgrown and neglected, because those lives to me matter, and a lot went on between that birth and that death date,” she said. “So just the ability to be able to maintain it or restore it to what it used to be makes that connection so I can bring my nieces, my grandchildren, and I can tell them the story about their great-grandmother. …

“I am a firm believer that you need to know where you came from so you can know where you are going,” she said.

Families with plots/spaces at the Maple Grove Cemetery, or those who are interested in joining the committee or donating, are asked to contact Greene-Baker at 859-314-2720 or email her at judygreenebaker@yahoo.com.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.

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