‘It hurts a lot’: Nonprofit works to restore abandoned graveyard for families

Nonprofit Friends of Eastern Cemetery tries their best to clean up the nearly 30 acre property each week but says they need more volunteers.
Nonprofit Friends of Eastern Cemetery tries their best to clean up the nearly 30 acre property each week but says they need more volunteers.
Published: Aug. 14, 2022 at 4:23 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) -Eastern Cemetery on Baxter Avenue was abandoned decades ago.

A local nonprofit called Friends of Eastern Cemetery works to make sure no family is forgotten. Founder Andy Harpole said he started the nonprofit in 2013.

“The reason we do it is because all of the people here built the city into what it is for us,” Harpole said. “The promise that they were all given when they bought their plots here, the promise has been broken. We kind of feel like it is our responsibility to step up and fulfill it because that is ultimately what a community does.”

Friends of Eastern Cemetery work to clean up the roughly 30 properties each week. Harpole said it is getting harder to do that without volunteers. They spend Sundays working to mow the grass, restore headstones and take down overgrown weeds.

“Just generally try and maintain the property, so it doesn’t get too out of hand,” Harpole said. “Which, it still does. But we fight it as hard as we can. We do a little bit of everything out here. We cut the grass, trim around stones, take care of trees that fall down.”

Harpole said at one point they had events that brought over 500 volunteers. Now, he said they only get about five to 15 volunteers each week.

Friends of Eastern Cemetery is encouraging volunteers of all ages to join their effort.

“That’s what keeps me motivated because I want to help people like that,” Harpole said. “They shouldn’t have to come out here and not be able to find their loved one’s graves.”

Anna Dawson-Heightfelt said her family has 11 relatives buried there. She said she brings her children out to Eastern Cemetery every Sunday.

“Every Sunday, it is cemetery day,” Heightfelt said. “So we come up, we help out, we pass out waters. My great grandpa was buried here and my great grandma and her people. So we’ve got about four generations. It actually, it hurts a lot, because it’s somebody’s family member. It doesn’t matter if you know them or not.”

Heightfelt said she has visited the cemetery every Sunday since she was little.

”My mom and my dad and I would come up, and then it kind of turned into a big family ordeal with my kids coming up to learn,” Heightfelt said. “I want them to understand that it’s good to give back to the people that don’t have a voice. The people that have been forgotten.”

Volunteer days with Friends of Eastern Cemetery are every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To learn more or donate to Friends of Eastern Cemetery, click or tap here.

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