Wesley Chapel Cemetery gets new life from repairing efforts

Sheila Hines (far left) and (from left) Dennis Brewer, Bob Rose, John “Walt” Walters and Randy Jones work together to raise a tombstone that has been face down in the dirt for more than 50 years on Wednesday, Aug. 14, at Wesley Chapel Cemetery. Photo by Lauren M. Wilson.

Originally published Aug. 19, 2013.

"It's unfortunate that it got to this point," says Sheila Hines, Jackson Township trustee, as she stands in the center of the abandoned Wesley Chapel Cemetery at the corner of CR 1100N and CR 400E just outside of Roanoke.

The cemetery is one of four that Hines has been working to restore over the past four years.

This year, Wesley Chapel Cemetery joins Roanoke, Shank and Arick cemeteries as Hines' works-in-progress.

"People say they don't realize it's a cemetery," Hines explains of the deteriorated site. It contains more than 50 gravestones that have become dilapidated and broken after years of neglect.

She, a handful of volunteers from the area and a team of cemetery restoration professionals led by John "Walt" Walters, of Connersville, worked in the cemetery during the week of Aug. 12.

They restored as many gravesites as possible with the money and time allotted for the project. At the end of the week, many of the gravestones were repaired.

Before Hines and company began their work, the stones had been buried by earth (some for over 50 years) and damaged by weather. Each marker was carefully restored and erected - once again - atop the graves they were meant to mark when first placed there more than 100 years ago.

"I've got a ton of before and after pictures that I use when I give talks," Hines says, referring to the restorations she has done over the past four years, as she sorts through a large tub of information - all collected by Hines, and all used to identify gravesites.
"It is real interesting to do the (genealogy)," she says.

She recounts an encounter with a man looking for family members by the name of Burr, who he believed to be buried in Shank Cemetery. Hines says she walked through the cemetery in search of the grave, but did not find it.

Later on, when she and Walters were restoring the sites, they found the grave. Hines was able to identify the man's family, and she says a mother, father and two children were all buried together in the cemetery.

Later, the man helped Hines out with her own project by sending her obituaries for the deceased.
Each of the cemeteries Hines is working on is classified as abandoned, she says. When a cemetery is abandoned, it falls on the township to maintain it.

So far she has helped to restore 96 gravestones in Roanoke Cemetery and nearly 50 in Shank Cemetery, as well as her work last week in Wesley Chapel Cemetery.

"This one (Wesley) hadn't been touched," she says. "I didn't want the people who live in this neighborhood to think, ‘Why didn't you come out here?'"

Hines hopes that what she is doing will encourage appreciation for the cemeteries, both for the historical aspect and the "beauty."

"This is so important," she adds.

Hines also points out that soon her title as trustee will be up for grabs.

"I really want this job again because I want to see this through to completion. If I don't get elected again, I don't know if the next trustee will continue.

She says in the next few years it is possible that two more cemeteries in the township may fall under the wing of the trustee to care for.

"I don't know why you'd want to not do it," she adds.

While Hines knows the work she does with Walters isn't easy, she also knows it doesn't come cheap.

"I am very grateful," she says of her relationship with Walters, who says he believes in a fair day's work for a fair days pay.

"That way this tombstone gets the attention it needs," he adds.

"This ain't a field of work that you should get in for the dollar signs - you should be in it for the heart," he says. "Make a living - that's understandable. You've got to make a living."

Hines says while Walter sand his crew work on the larger tombstones, she and her volunteers "go do the digging."
"It's great, because they know they are not doing harm. They are doing the right thing and they can see a great enhancement and say, ‘Wow, look what we did,'" says Walters.

"He is very good at what he does," says Hines of Walters, "He cares. It's not just a job."