Heyl: Grassroots effort for broke Homestead cemetery succeeds at more than trimming grass
In a perfect world, volunteers wouldn't need to cut the grass at Homestead Cemetery.
In a perfect world, people wouldn't have to step over chains or scale fences to visit their loved ones' resting places.
Unfortunately, imperfections abound not just in life, but in its aftermath. Anyone who has a loved one interred in the 34-acre cemetery in Munhall can tell you that.
In a development fascinating to casual observers and frustrating to the demographic I mentioned, the financially failing cemetery closed last month. The board overseeing the 129-year-old burial ground is expected to file for bankruptcy, leaving the cemetery's future uncertain.
“It's a sad situation,” said Victoria Carter, 45, of West Mifflin, whose mother's husband was buried there in January. “No one is taking responsibility for the place.”
That's not entirely true. Carter is part of three ordinary people who admirably stepped up to coordinate the volunteer effort to maintain the cemetery and publicize its plight online.
The cemetery is in financial limbo until its directors formally declare bankruptcy. Munhall officials last week established a bank account for donations to help fund maintenance, but it's doubtful contributions can cover the cemetery's annual $80,000 to $100,000 operating costs.
A chain and barricade block the cemetery's main entrance on Main Street; a chained fence barricades the rear entrance off Farragut Street.
That hasn't prevented scores of volunteers from technically trespassing on weekends. They're at the cemetery not for quiet contemplation at a graveside, but for tackling the tall grass with lawn mowers and trimmers.
“No one's upset that they have to do it,” Carter said. “They're more than happy to come in — even the one little boy who has the lawn mower that blows bubbles out of it.”
Carter, a supervisor at an assisted-living facility, went to the cemetery to protest shortly after it closed.
There, she met Sandy Wolfe, 55, and Brandon Potts, 27, both of Munhall.
The three formed an informal advocacy group whose growing successes can be measured by more than just the low grass length.
A “Help Homestead Cemetery” Facebook page gained more than 900 “likes,” and more than 700 people joined a “My Homestead Cemetery Story” page. A save-the-cemetery online petition has more than 300 signatures.
“We're not trying to cause trouble,” Carter said. “But you can't just lock us out of seeing our family members. We're in that cemetery because we want to respect the way it looks. We want to take pride in the place our loved ones are buried.”
What will happen in the long term is anyone's guess.
For the moment, the cemetery couldn't be in better hands than those of this commendable volunteer community.
Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857.