LocalSYR

Caretaker looking for community’s help after storm ravages cemetery

Korean War veteran Richard Houser clears a lump in his throat as he surveys storm damage at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Onondaga Hill.
Onondaga Hill (WSYR-TV) – Korean War veteran Richard Houser clears a lump in his throat as he surveys storm damage at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Onondaga Hill.

“My grandfather and my father were in charge of this and I’m the next one in line ,” said Houser. “The first thing I saw was that tree – right there – laying across the driveway. I said ‘Uh-oh.’”

On Tuesday, wind gusts knocked down several large trees in the cemetery, smashing graves and limiting access to visitors.

Houser, an 81-year-old volunteer caretaker for the cemetery, knows he can't tackle repairs alone.

"I don't know. I'm beside myself. What am I going to do?” Houser said.

Without insurance to cover the damage, Houser believes he only has enough money to clear a few trees that are blocking a driveway to the cemetery. He'll need a lot of help and donations to clear up the rest of the grounds.

Carole Barlow 's family headstones are intact, but the storm-ravaged view from their final resting place leaves her heartbroken.

"This is my grandfather and the small stones are my great-grandfather and this big one over here, James Smith is my great-great grandfather,” said Carole Barlow. "I think we all have to respect life and death. To me, these people are dead, but they are here and you've got to take care of it for them."

The older stones in the cemetery may never be fixed, but a clean landscape would help Houser continue his volunteer work tending to new burials and documenting long-forgotten stories.

Searching through the brush, he points out a slate monument that was grazed by one falling tree. According to local legend, the grave belongs to a pioneer family that was forced to bury a baby as they passed through the area.

There are other notable stories - rows of plaques dedicated to soldiers from the Revolutionary War.

"Right there with the yellow flag is the first Onondaga County Sheriff,” Houser explained.

With a sense of duty in his voice and hope, Houser is waiting for a kind stranger to help him restore order at Walnut Grove Cemetery, so visitors can once again pay their respects – surrounded by the nicer side of nature.

"It is just the right thing to do. This is a sacred ground,” he said.

As Memorial Day approaches, people can help with the clean-up by donating time or money by calling Houser at (315) 469-0860.

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