DOBBINS HEIGHTS — The reluctant caretaker of the Dobbins Heights cemetery, Jane Mask, broke her silence Friday on the issue of the trash buildup at the cemetery, saying she didn’t have the money to fix it herself but was open to any step the town chose to take to improve conditions — as long as it would last.
Mask said she was open to a solution that was tried in the past: allow the town to take over the land at virtually no cost, and once it’s publicly owned, apply for grant money to pay for the cleanup. Mask said the only way to keep the grounds safe from those who would use it as a landfill was to fence it in and put locks on the gates.
In response, Harold Riley, who recently raised the issue to the Town Council, said that was his goal: convince the council to take up Mask on her offer when she said: “For one dollar, you can have it.”
“The ball is in the town’s court,” Riley said.
He said he would pack Town Council chambers with local supporters to achieve that end.
Several people reached for this story Tuesday said that they were willing to do whatever it took to clean the cemetery.
Avis Jenkins, a resident of Woodsbridge, Virginia, said at least 25 family members were buried in the cemetery.
“When I visit my family’s graves, when I go home, I’m very troubled by the conditions of the cemetery,” Jenkins said in a Facebook message. “I’ve known about the condition for a few years now. It’s a shame.”
Her family pays someone to take care of its plots, and she said her family was discussing ways they could come together to help the situation whether it be through fundraising or donations.
The cemetery is “non-perpetual care,” meaning it’s the responsibility of the owners of each individual plot to make sure it’s clean, not the owner of the cemetery’s, Mask said. Visiting one’s family members laid to rest there requires stepping over mattresses and dodging piles of bottles, not to mention the garbage tossed off to the sides.
The cemetery passed from Mask’s grandfather to her father, who always paid out of pocket to keep the grounds clean. When her father died in 2010, Mask made it clear that she didn’t know what would happen to the cemetery because she didn’t have the money to keep it up, and her only involvement now is completing the sales of plots her father made decades ago.
The sight of the garbage piles shocked Riley, who had traveled from New York to visit the graves of eight relatives. He took the issue to the Town Council to ask members to do something about the trash.
Mayor Antonio Blue said the issue was out of his and the council’s hands because the cemetery was private property, adding on Friday, “Why would we pay to have it cleaned for (the owner’s) benefit?”
Blue could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Diana Soto of Rockingham said that although she didn’t have family buried in the cemetery, she would have tried to help sooner had she known how bad the situation was.
“I believe a final resting place should be just that and not a dumping ground,” Soto said in a Facebook message. “I can’t see how whomever is dumping would do so there.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]