Monday, July 19, 2004

Cemetery needs all its friends

Volunteers hack away at years of neglect

By Reid Forgrave
Enquirer staff writer

NORTHSIDE - In May, Debbie Redmon had her son's body moved from the place where it had lain for 25 years.

Denny McManus of Monfort Heights volunteered his time along with others in the community to clean up Wesleyan Cemetery in Northside Sunday afternoon.
(Enquirer photo/STEVEN M. HERPPICH)
Christopher was born with a heart defect and died when he was 5 days old. His mother watched in dismay over the years as Wesleyan Cemetery became unkempt, and she finally had his body disinterred and reburied in nearby Spring Grove Cemetery.

But she isn't giving up on the troubled Northside cemetery, which holds the remains of more than 26,000 Cincinnatians dating to the 1800s - including 1,700 veterans.

"It's just horrible that it's in this condition for absolutely no reason," said Redmon, who is with the nonprofit group Friends of the Wesleyan Cemetery, which has attempted to restore the hilly grounds. "It's horrible you have to fight the county and the city to take responsibility here."

This past Saturday and Sunday, as they have on many weekends since 2002, Redmon and 30 other volunteers mowed and weed-whacked, cut apart trees and collected fallen limbs, trying to clean up the 25-acre, overgrown cemetery.

People with family members interred here come to patch up the land that's sacred to their family. Others just feel a sense of compassion for this long-neglected land.

To make a donation to support upkeep of the cemetery, send a check to Friends of Wesleyan Cemetery, c/o Northside Bank and Trust Co., 4125 Hamilton Ave., Cincinnati, OH, 45223, or call Debbie Redmon at (513) 542-4103.

Volunteers meet every weekend day at the cemetery, located at 4003 Colerain Ave. in Northside.

"A cemetery to me is a sacred place, no matter if it's veterans or any other person," said Allan West of Hamilton, who has no connection to the cemetery aside from reading newspaper articles detailing its troubles. "People have come here and cried over these graves. People were put here to be remembered."

On Sunday, David Weigel, owner of the Watch-Em-Mow landscaping company in Trenton, came to the cemetery with a small crew. They came and worked, free of charge and equipped with weed whackers, push mowers and riding mowers.

At the center of legal disputes for years, the Colerain Avenue cemetery will have its fate decided in December when Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro brings his case to remove trustee Robert Merkle. Merkle served 18 months in prison after stealing $93,000 from the cemetery's trust.

"It's a sorry state," said Sherry Brunner, a retired Colerain Township resident whose four grandparents are buried here alongside her great-grandfather, a veteran of the Civil War. "It's a nightmare. It just seems like nobody cares.

"If your parents are buried in this cemetery, you want to make sure that place is taken care of."



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