ROCKINGHAM — A plague of weed-whackers buzzed over the uneven sandhills of Mizpah Cemetery on Saturday, determined to clear it of rampant broomstraw, desiccated cacti and fingers of scrub oak.
The mission by members of Cordova Baptist Church was one of several weekend cleanup endeavors, including:
- sorting the pantry, raking up pine straw and ridding the Ashley Chapel Community Center of a defunct air-conditioning unit in preparation for an upcoming candidates’ forum, and
- a largely one-man effort to push back the scraggly bushes and clean up the trash at the Dobbins Heights Community Center.
“It’s a vision from the Lord,” Pastor Doug Anderson said of the three-year effort to “return dignity” at the cemetery, the final resting place for about 800 souls.
“What would be great is if the state or the city or the county would take the responsibility” for the place, whose deed — apparently — is in question. But “as long as we’re here,” Anderson said of a cadre of volunteers from three churches, the cemetery will continue to be improved.
There’s a biblical necessity for that, he said.
“One day, these gravesites will open up for those who are saved” and allow them to “meet Jesus in the air,” Anderson said, quoting a letter from St. Paul to the Thessalonians. With the tangle of debris covering some graves, such an ascension would be difficult.
About 100 feet away, congregant Barbara Shy was feeling a bit more down to earth, pushing a lawn mower back and forth over the bumpy terrain.
“My husband told me, ‘That’s not a bush hog; it’s a lawn mower,’” she said with a laugh, “but I’ve been doing (pretty) good knocking it down.”
Carl Shy, a deacon at Cordova Baptist, said he worried about the lawn mower. He had raised the motor so Barbara couldn’t destroy it, but he was still afraid he’d have to replace a few blades.
A member of AMVETS Post 316, Carl Shy said he wanted to make sure people could see the flags and white PVC crosses his group had posted on several graves. Then he bent down to brush debris from the tombstone of a World War II vet who had become “the world’s greatest grandpa,” according to a plate placed at his grave.
The East Rockingham Fire Department was scheduled to perform a controlled burn after church members had piled up tree and grass trimmings from the gravesites.
A bucket brigade also followed Saturday, picking up trash left behind by visitors — silk flowers and Christmas ornaments blown off graves, as well as eating utensils left in the sparse grass.
Up Mizpah Road at Ashley Chapel Community Center, volunteer Mamie Bristow straightened such things as tin foil and mixing bowls left by many hands in many places. In the center’s main room, folding chairs stacked atop folding tables awaited opening for a voters’ forum planned for 6 p.m. on May 3.
Outside, a group of men wrestled a dead air-conditioning unit into a pickup truck for disposal.
“We want to let (people) know we are here,” community center member Nic Nicholson said of the cleanup and voter forum. “We want to empower … our young people to take the responsibility for their community” and continue a three-phase cleanup and rejuvenation of the center, which Nicholson said would include refurbishing the picnic shelter, as well as the play area and ball field.
Meanwhile in Dobbins Heights, Ronald Davis trimmed bushes outside the community center so they wouldn’t snag people parking there for events.
Longtime Dobbins Heights native and Atlanta dweller Ralph Moore joined friend Davis for a bit before heading off to give away his daughter at her wedding and, from time to time, Davis was able to snare “volunteers” to pick up trash along the roadway.
That most people slept in past his 8 a.m. starting time didn’t daunt Davis, who promised he’d be back.
“If it’s a one-man crew, it’s a one-man crew,” Davis said of his drive to refresh the community. “I’ve got to do what God told me to do.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]