Thursday, August 31, 2000

Labor of love is long-term

Volunteer's spent months in cemetery

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CHEVIOT — He is dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, running his lawn mower past the headstones that are worn by time and weather, working on a hillside that once was choked with growth and vines.

[photo] Joe Toney's hard work has not gone unnoticed in Cheviot. Many people stop by to thank him.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        He has been working at the Westwood Baptist Cemetery since early spring, right in the heart of Cheviot's business district. Very few people know who he is.

        “I don't know his name,” says Jim Musser, who owns the barber shop across the street from the cemetery. “But he's done a wonderful job. It was all grown over up there. He painted the fence and everything. It's taken him a long time.”

        Joe Toney is his name. He makes the drive from his Lawrenceburg home at least twice a week. He arrives with lawn mower and tools. He is 71, retired and a member of the church — Faith Fellowship — that owns the cemetery. Back in the spring the cemetery became his project. A Korean War veteran, he was drawn partly because of the Civil War veterans buried there.

        He pulled weeds, trimmed back the day lilies, tore out vines that crawled through the chain-link fence, uprooted small shrubs that obscured the names of those buried there. He took a thick roller and painted the rusted fence a dark green. He edged along the sidewalk. He pulled down the green ivy that climbed from the cemetery and began to cover the bar next door.

        People noticed his work.

        They stopped at the fence along Harrison Avenue and complimented Mr. Toney. Two women asked if they could send their husbands by for tips on how to paint a chain-link fence. A Cheviot councilwoman came by and thanked him.

        “That cemetery has been an eyesore in the heart of our business district for a number of years,” said Cheviot Mayor J. Michael Laumann. “This guy has apparently adopted the cemetery. It's his personal project. He's really cleaned it up. It looks great. He certainly got the attention of the city. There's been some discussion internally about initiating a program designed to honor people who make that kind of commitment to improving the environment of our city. He was the impetus for the discussion.”

        Barbara Toney said the project has been good for her husband.

        “It's kind of like a ministry for him,” she said. “He's a good-hearted person.”

        “There's a lot of Civil War veterans in here,” said Mr. Toney. “My brother took care of Glen Haven Cemetery in Harrison. He was proud of what he'd done. People would come in to see their loved ones and he kept it well. I saw the veterans' graves in here and it really clicked.”

        Another church member, Jim Burke, helps out and brings his riding mower to cut the upper portion of the cemetery.

        Mr. Toney had piled up the clippings and debris in corners. He'll sit on a headstone at the back of the cemetery in the shade of a sycamore and gaze at the names. Garson, Rockenfield, Matlack, Watson, Storey, many of them buried in the mid- to late 1800s.

        “You can see the ones I haven't got to yet,” said Mr. Toney, walking to one corner of the cemetery. “This old soldier over here was all overgrown.”

        A pint-sized headstone for J.B. Moore sprouts from the ground. Mr. Toney believes he was a Civil War veteran, Company D, but much of the headstone is illegible.

        “It really makes you feel good, the people walking by,” said Mr. Toney. “They always say something nice. I tell them, "You keep saying that and I'll keep working.'”

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