Volunteers ‘adopt’ section of trash-filled cemetery

Call 12 For Action

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Nadine Wilson visits her son’s grave at Oakland Cemetery in Cranston every year on his birthday.

This year she had trouble finding it among overgrown plants and piles of trash.

“It’s supposed to be somewhere in here,” Wilson said. “I think this is the worst I have seen it.”

Most of the cemetery looks about the same and has for years. A viewer recently alerted Call 12 for Action to a gaping hole in the ground that is barely covered by plywood.

In 2014, the owner of the cemetery, Russell Dodd, said he had no money to maintain the property. He could not be reached to comment for this report.

Pegee Malcolm, chair of the Rhode Island Advisory Commission on Historical Cemeteries, said groups are limited in what they can do to help fix up privately owned cemeteries, but in this case, some work is being done.

“The owner has now agreed to let people go in,” Malcolm said, and a group from a local Armenian church will be helping.

Steve Elmasian, who is part of the group helping out from Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church in Providence, says the cleanup has been a years-long labor of love.

“It was almost an insurmountable task,” Elmasian said. “We started in the back, pulled out the big items, the branches, trees that had fallen, and then we started bagging leaves.”

After an estimated thousand bags of leaves and at least a thousand volunteer hours, the group’s adopted section of the cemetery is pristine.

“We brought honor and dignity to this resting place,” Elmasian said.

Members of the group regularly mow and plan to plant new trees on the grounds.

Now, the volunteers are hoping additional groups will follow their lead and adopt other sections of the cemetery.

“I would like to think that it will be well kept,” Malcolm said. “We thank him [Dodd] that he has allowed folks to go in and clean and take care of things, so I would see that continuing.”

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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