Everyone working to clean the overgrown Alexander Cemetery on Wednesday was there as a volunteer.
The crew included three inmates at the Jasper County Jail, who had volunteered for the workday, and four members of the Jasper County Cemetery Preservation Committee.
With inmates doing most of the heavy lifting, the volunteers cut down trees and cleared away underbrush, exposing at least 25 gravestones in the private cemetery off Highway HH between Joplin and Carthage.
The workday marked the second time that jail inmates had come to work at the cemetery, after a request was made to Sheriff Randee Kaiser by Marjorie Bull, a member of the cemetery committee.
“They’ve made a lot of headway,” Bull said of the inmates. “It was completely overgrown before they started.”
The cemetery group was formally appointed years ago to help the county monitor the condition of cemeteries, especially the older ones that had become abandoned as family members died off or moved away.
Such projects appeal to Bull’s interest in history and preservation. Bull said she and her daughter spent years cleaning the cemetery in which her great-grandfather was buried.
“There are at least 50 cemeteries around the county like this that need this help,” she said.
The Alexander Cemetery is on about an acre behind a private home that’s on a side road off HH Highway. Many of the graves are those of the Alexander family. One grave site marks the final resting place of Jessie Alexander, a World War I veteran who was born in 1893 and died 80 years later. Many graves are for former residents born in the 1800s who died in the middle of the 1900s.
A few of the deaths are more recent, and some of the grave sites were recently decorated by friends or relatives who had to wade through heavy underbrush to reach them. Others are adorned by blooming yucca plants nearby.
“That’s sort of a tradition; you can use the plant to mark the grave,” Bull said.
The inmates, wearing jail garb along with boots, gloves and safety glasses, worked more than four hours at the site. Bull said sheriff’s officials have promised they would return for two more workdays.
“That should clear it; they’ve done a wonderful job,” she said.
Inmates offered the outdoor duty are selected based on their records and behavior.
“Then they have to volunteer,” Deputy Arthur Brown said. “Most of the guys we have out here won’t be in jail long. The guys that came out here and worked before are out of jail, and these will be, if we come back,” he said.
Though the project is not an absolute fit, it does mesh with department priorities to emphasize “community policing” in which deputies get more involved in the neighborhoods they patrol, said Cpl. Matt Smith.
Bull said she chose the cemetery because its proximity to Carthage would make it easier for the sheriff’s department to get involved.
The cemetery preservation maintains maps of the abandoned cemeteries and, when available, records of who is buried there.
She said the committee would like to encourage other groups and organizations to get involved, and “adopt” a cemetery for maintenance.
“It’s work, but it’s important. And it’s history,” she said..
Those who cannot do the work also could help by donating equipment, such as loppers and rakes.
Want to help?
Residents who would like to get involved in the county cemetery maintenance effort may contact Marjorie Bull via the Jasper County Records Center in Carthage at 417-359-1100.