MASON, W.Va. — For more than 50 years off and on, the family of Vernon and Patty Roush has been the caretaker of the I.O.O.F. (Odd Fellows) Cemetery on the outskirts of Mason.
The cemetery is located high atop a hill off of Kebler Lane, with the Roush home sitting at the base.
The caretaking actually began as summer jobs when the Roush children were teenagers. Son Vernon was first, earning a modest seasonal wage to cut the grass. He was followed by the Roush’s daughter Guyla, and finally, son Thomas. But as the trustees of the cemetery got older and started dying, so did the funds used to pay those who mowed.
While Vernon and Patty assisted the children in their caretaking efforts, after the teens were grown, it was the elders who kept up with the cleaning – on a volunteer basis. Vernon has several relatives buried in the cemetery, including a brother, grandparents, and uncles. At first the two only cared for those graves, but soon found themselves mowing more and more, until they were encompassing the entire graveyard.
Nowadays the work has come full circle. Thomas, now retired, has joined his parents once again in caring for the cemetery, but did not come alone. His wife Jeannie, their adult daughter Sally Smith, and Sally’s daughters Bailey and Brooklyn, have joined the efforts.
The four generations come to mow, no longer with only a push mower, and each has his or her own duty.
Vernon, now 89 years old, operates the string trimmer, as well as a riding mower. Patty removes the flowers from the graves and returns them when the mowing is finished. Thomas uses a tractor to get the more open areas, while the remainder of the crew does trim work, push mowing, and limb and brush gathering.
Members of the Sugar Maple 4-H Club, with Sally as their leader, also work at the cemetery as a community service project. The kids travel up the hill pre-season to clear the area of larger brush and limbs before the mowing begins.
Patty describes the mowing days as “enjoyable,” and oftentimes provides hotdogs and other refreshments to those helping. Vernon, however, has a much different view.
“It gets disheartening sometimes,” he said. “I wish more people would come out to help.”
At times the family has only cleaned the cemetery once a season, right before Memorial Day. But now that Thomas has retired and the workers are more in number, last year they mowed five times. The family expects to clean at least that many times again this summer.
The Roushes accept donations from those who have relatives buried at the cemetery. They received a few last year and Vernon said they were used to purchase gas and supplies, like string for the trimmer. Anyone wishing to contribute can send donations to Vernon Roush, P.O. Box 474, Mason, WV 25260, or Thomas Roush, 560 Gibbstown Road, Letart, WV 25253.
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Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.