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New Belle Vernon Cemetery superintendent has passion for job

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Thomas F. Hewitt the new superintendent of the Belle Vernon Cemetery Association, looks of some books in the cemeterys office.
Jim Ference |  The Valley Independent
Thomas F. Hewitt the new superintendent of the Belle Vernon Cemetery Association, looks of some books in the cemeterys office. Jim Ference | The Valley Independent

When Tom Hewitt was recently named acting superintendent of the Belle Vernon Cemetery, it ended a nearly century-long streak of family management of the site.

Hewitt admitted that assuming a post with so much family history can be daunting.

“It's good that I worked for Dave for so long and knew his dad,” Hewitt said. “That made it an easy transition.”

The Belle Vernon Cemetery was incorporated May 13, 1867. Dr. Van Voorhis, a doctor for 56 years, was the association's first president.

The association purchased seven acres of the original Springer family burial ground. The oldest gravestone, circa 1836, is etched with the name of Rachael Springer.

In 1912, an additional 10 acres was purchased from the Springers, including their former home, which today is the residence for the superintendent, his family and the cemetery offices.

In 1936, an additional 20 acres of land was purchased from the Allen family.

In 1916, Charles Lambert became superintendent. He managed it until his death in 1951, when his son-in-law, David P. Scholl, took over. He had previously served as a long time assistant superintendent.

When David P. Scholl died in June 1998, his son and former assistant superintendent, David L. Scholl, took over the position. He served as superintendent until Dec. 31, 2012.

Hewitt, who was assistant superintendent, was named acting superintendent. He will assume the superintendent role permanently when the fiscal year begins in April.

Growing up in Fairhope, Hewitt graduated from Chapel Christian School in 1987. After attending college for a few years and a stint in the Army National Guard, he took a job at St. Margaret's Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Hewitt took over as assistant superintendent under David L. Scholl when David P. Scholl passed away in 1998.

He assumed the post of superintendent of St. Peter's Cemetery, near the Highland Park section of Pittsburgh, before coming back to Belle Vernon Cemetery in 2008.

“This place is more than just a bunch of tombstones,” Hewitt said. “Each one of those people has a story.”

There are 43 soldiers who were killed in action buried at Belle Vernon Cemetery, Hewitt noted.

This past summer, Hewitt oversaw a project that involved photographing all of the tombstones.

“I've been around the past five years,” Hewitt said. “I remember most of the people I buried. But someone could come in and tell Dave ‘My mom died 12 years ago,' and he'd know exactly where they were. I'm trying to get there.”

A history buff, Hewitt said learning about all of the people buried there is a bit of passion for him.

“I want to make sure the peoples' lives are not forgotten,” Hewitt said.

The cemetery has an online database. Hewitt said the cemetery association is including obituary information for each person buried there so families can do genealogies.

Wanting to be as accessible to the families, Hewitt often drives through the cemetery on the weekends. If he sees someone who appears lost, he offers to help them find a loved one's gravesite.

“I have a phone app that can pinpoint where that grave is and then I take them to the grave instead of them walking around lost.”

Hewitt has a passion for his profession.

“It's a labor of love, just the history of the place,” Hewitt said. “Most of my family is buried here. There's a sense of ownership.

“You'd like everyone to have a place of rest. There's nothing sadder than driving by a run-down cemetery.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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