SARANAC — When Mikayla St. Louis saw the smashed and broken headstones in Independence Cemetery, tears filled her eyes.
“That’s my community,” the 11-year-old said, trying to put into words the sadness she felt at seeing the markers that preserve the memory of those buried there. “That’s from the Civil War.”
And that cemetery, vandalized on Sept. 16, is the final resting place of her grandfather Stephen White.
He died when Mikayla’s mom, Susan, was just 4 years old, but the family visits his grave every year, on his birthday and on the Fourth of July.
Mikayla has come to feel she knows him from those visits.
“I feel like he’s right there (with me),” she said.
Her grandfather’s marker wasn’t damaged, but all the same, Mikayla started thinking. And she asked her dad, Rick, what she could do to help make the cemetery whole again.
“He said we could do a car wash,” she said. “I said, ‘How about a bake sale?’
“We just started plotting that night.”
QUOTES FOR REPAIR
The daytime destruction at the cemetery left 75 stones damaged — some knocked over, some cracked at the base or the top, others badly smashed.
Independence Cemetery Board of Trustees President Sam Tedford had estimated the damage at $8,000. He received two quotes for the repair: one for $26,250 and the other for $7,825.
He said he wasn’t sure why one was so much higher than the other, but he knows the cheaper quote is the best choice.
They will do their best to repair the most seriously damaged stones, Tedford said.
“We can’t afford to replace them,” he said. “Some of them are quite old, and there are no families left … that look after those.”
“Even if they’re not perfect, I think we can get by with it.”
‘IT’S LIKE A CHAIN’
Mikayla started making signs for her fundraiser, which took place Oct. 12 at Saranac Volunteer Fire Department.
She and her family invited students and staff at Saranac Central School, local churches and the Fire Department to contribute food for the bake sale and to volunteer washing cars.
“It wasn’t so much a huge amount of work for me,” the sixth-grader said. “(But) at the beginning, we weren’t sure how much word we could get out there.”
She soon realized that wouldn’t be a problem.
“It’s like a chain,” she said. “If you tell one person, the whole world will know.”
LOTS OF HELP
A perfect fall day dawned for the fundraiser, and many of Mikayla’s classmates and other students pitched in.
Adults gave them pointers before they turned the hose on vehicles, Mr. St. Louis said.
“Some of them never touched a brush to a car,” he said.
But enthusiasm counted for much.
“They were having a blast,” he said.
“I was happy to see how many came to support me with the event,” Mikayla said.
Also helping out was her brother, Stephen, who’s 19.
Mikayla was especially moved when one school employee brought cookies for the bake sale to raise funds for the cemetery.
“Her son is buried there,” she said.
The St. Louises weren’t surprised at their daughter’s empathy and desire to make a difference.
“Anything like that really gets to her,” Mr. St. Louis said. “It touched her heart.”
State Police arrested an 11-year-old in connection with the vandalism, charging the youth with second-degree cemetery desecration, a misdemeanor.
The case is being handled in Clinton County Family Court.
That disturbed Mikayla a lot, that someone her own age may have perpetrated all that damage.
“It’s really sad any kid would think of doing it,” she said.
But her fundraiser brought in $1,313 for the cemetery, and it warmed Mikayla’s heart that so many from the community and beyond cared enough to make that happen.
And so did Tedford’s reaction when she delivered the money, “exactly one month from the vandalism,” she said.
“He said, ‘This is going to help majorly,’” she said. “He was very proud of me.”
Tedford had his pickup truck washed at the event and also bought a dozen peanut butter cookies, which, he said, were very good.
“Here you have two 11-year-olds, one is trying to raise money to repair the vandalism, and the other created some of the vandalism,” he said.
Mikayla’s parents, he added, “can be very proud of her.”
Mikayla looks forward to the day when the stones are all in place again.
“I would like to get some of it repaired this fall,” Tedford said, “but it’s not going to happen.”
The warm weather necessary for cement to cure has almost passed.
This week, he was waiting for the Division of Cemeteries in Albany, which has a vandalism fund, to approve the quote.
A burial ground, Mikayla mused, is part of the community, and those entrusted with the care of Independence Cemetery do a great job taking care of it.
“They keep it very neat — they pluck all the weeds, they mow it.
“For someone to go around and just destroy those headstones, it’s very sad.”
Email Suzanne Moore:firstname.lastname@example.org