By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — KEESEVILLE — Once in such bad shape the state thought it was abandoned, Evergreen Cemetery in Keeseville has been fully restored by volunteers.
“We turned it right around,” cemetery Board of Trustees President June Venette said.
“There was a lot of vandalism. A lot of headstones were laying there. It needed attention.”
Mrs. Venette and her husband, Ed, along with volunteer groundskeeper Joseph Steffy, gave it that attention.
Some of the damage they repaired dated as far back as the Ice Storm of 1998, Mrs. Venette said.
“The large hedge around the cemetery needed attention. Many of the headstones were falling or leaning dangerously because of age.”
She said they have to file reports with the State Division of Cemeteries and found that the agency had grants available to help them.
“They had a grant we could get to have the stones repaired. We’re very thankful for that. We’ve had almost 200 stones repaired.”
The Division of Cemeteries had not heard from Evergreen for so long it had been listed as abandoned, she said.
‘LABOR OF LOVE’
Her husband and Steffy are now the cemetery’s caretakers, Mrs. Venette said.
“They do an extraordinary job. They are retired, so they do this in their spare time. With all the work they do, if they were paid, it would probably work out to 50 cents an hour. It’s a labor of love.”
The cemetery is about 20 acres, plus 5 acres for expansion that Keeseville businessman George Moore donated, Mrs. Venette said.
“There are two sides to the cemetery and a ravine in between. It’s a large cemetery.”
Recently someone donated a pressure washer to clean the headstones, some of which date to 1849, when the cemetery was established.
“We had headstones buried in the banks, so we didn’t even know they were there. Several Civil War soldiers are buried in our cemetery.”
Woodsmen of the World donated flags, which are placed on veterans’ graves before Memorial Day and taken off after Veterans Day.
“We are run strictly on donations,” Mrs. Venette said. “We want to keep the cemetery in the pristine condition it’s in.”
Eighty-year-old Hazel LaBounty of Saranac Lake has family members at Evergreen Cemetery, and she praised the Venettes for the job they’ve done cleaning up the property.
“Those people have worked so hard. They’re very civic-minded. It was terrible in the past; it was a mess. There was a fountain in the front, it hadn’t been running for years, and they got that going. They did so much.”
The work they did restoring tombstones is also exemplary, LaBounty said.
“They used a pressure cleaner. Now, 100-year-old stones look brand new. They were so bad you couldn’t read them.”
LaBounty said they’ve also planted trees and done landscaping to make Evergreen look great again.
“They had the gates redone. It looks like a park now. It has improved so much it’s remarkable.”
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