Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX


March 27, 2007

Man has spent years restoring old cemeteries

MOUNT VERNON, Mo. — Ray Gene Richardson counts his friends in acres, making his acquaintances unique in that most have been dead for years.

A lifelong Mount Vernon resident, Richardson has spent a lifetime giving back to those who can no longer utter a “thank you.” His love for cemeteries and a desire to honor history have led him to a retirement not of relaxation, but years of moving brush and, at age 85, back-breaking concrete work.

Richardson estimates he’s worked on six cemeteries in Missouri, some that were almost lost and forgotten in a sea of weeds. He researches where local people are buried, finds the cemeteries, cleans away debris, digs up buried gravestones and repairs them. He said he gets his thanks from family members who’ve spent years searching for their ancestors’ graves, but he doesn’t do it for other people — his cemetery work is the result of a deep-seated belief that the past is crucial to the present. And what is history, if not a collection of the stories of the people who lived before?

“It makes you feel good to do something,” Richardson said. “A lot of people just live off the country and leave nothing.”

‘This is the history’

As he walks through the places he’s touched, like the Mount Vernon City Cemetery, where he repaired 42 tombstones, he talks about the people buried there as if they were alive, most with their own stories.

Pointing to a brown stone with barely a marking, Richardson said Aunt Taz, a jolly old African-American woman, is buried there. Next to her, grave markers without names represent two men who got into a fight and, after killing each other, were buried side by side. He said a tall, gray column represents the man who owned the first business in Mount Vernon. Walking past a group of stones bearing the last name Stroud, he said one belonged to one of the first sheriffs of Lawrence County. Another displaying the name Harris is supposedly the grave of the man who built the old jail house.

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