Monmouth Cemetery Association upset by student help

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Monmouth social studies teacher Jocelyn Gray, second from left, helps students, from left, Kelsea Blanton, 14; Rebecca Bero, 15; Duncan Grant, 15; and Jordhan Coward, 14, dig a trench around a toppled headstone that will eventually be righted in the Monmouth Center Cemetery recently. The students have been asked not to enter the cemetery without supervision of the cemetery's board.

MONMOUTH — Students from Monmouth Academy and Monmouth Middle School had no idea that when they spruced up the Monmouth Center Cemetery, they would receive a civics lesson from a disgruntled cemetery association.

On Oct. 28, as part of a history lesson, social studies teacher Jocelyn Gray led a group of 15 students on a sunny Sunday afternoon to clean up the cemetery.

The students, ranging from seventh-graders to sophomores, arrived eager to work for nothing more than light refreshments and the fulfillment of a school project.

Gray's first words to her students while handing out equipment were, "Be careful."

And they were — they didn't even allow rakes to scrape too close to the many marble and limestone monuments.

Leaves were raked onto tarps and hauled off to the woods beyond the graveyard. Dead branches also were removed and placed in the woods. Students clipped grass around monuments and used gentle brushes to remove fungi from the flat tops of stones.

Money was also raised by the students to repair the headstone of Seth Martin. The monument's base had apparently broken, toppling the gravestone and revealing a pair of 19th-century keys.

Students and Dennis Price, a teacher who is knowledgeable about monuments, went to work, applying epoxy and a band clamp to the broken stone.

When the bright, young faces adorned the Sun Journal the next day, however, not everyone was impressed.

Monmouth Academy Principal Rick Amero soon received a call from Monmouth Cemetery Association President Hugh LeMaster, who was was afraid the kids' presence would be detrimental. He gave what amounted to a "cease and desist" from the cemetery association.

Amero said the town is, and has always been, very supportive of the kids and referred to any misunderstanding with the association as "gaps in communication."

That communication gap continued when LeMaster called a meeting with Gray, who brought four of her students with her to the meeting.

Amero, who had been unable to attend the meeting, said his feeling was that the students were no longer welcome in the cemetery.

Following the meeting, Amero said he received an email from LeMaster, outlining how students were to proceed if they were going to continue the project, adding further confusion for teacher and students.

"What's really wonderful is, these kids own this," Amero said, "When they thought they might not be able to — they started troubleshooting. How do we do this — who do we contact?"

Amero said he is really proud of the students and supports them.

"We want the project to continue," he said.

Meeting with LeMaster, Gray said, "He praised us for our efforts," but because the kids weren't professionals, they would do more harm than good.

Gray said she was given permission to let the kids continue raking, providing they had chaperons from the association.

She said she was told the group could not continue their repair work on Martin's headstone, even after Martin's great-great-granddaughter, Mary Cobb, contacted Gray to express her gratitude and gave her consent for their work.

Speaking of her students at the meeting, Gray said, "I know that they did not feel very welcome."

She said they did not understand why people were upset about all they had done.

According to Gray, issues were brought up regarding numbers of people allowed in the cemetery at one time, citing instances of theater-goers eating their lunch there or walking among the stones.

Gray said she was told by LeMaster that even a little brush of your hip can topple a stone. Questions about the use of cleaning chemicals were also repeated to Gray, who assured him that not even water was used.

"I know my kids want to do more — they're very frustrated," Gray said. "It's about doing something nice for the community."

Undaunted, Gray said her students are currently researching their rights and responsibilities in such a case. She said the kids want to know what they are and are not supposed to do.

Gray said, "They love their town and know the majority of the community supports them," but at the same time, "I think they feel like teenagers are not listened to because they are teenagers."

Gray said, "I'm just very proud of my kids that even if there is a setback or roadblock, they can find the right way around it."

Word quickly traveled among the students following the meeting, allowing their frustration to be shared as seventh-grader Morgan Crocker reached out to the Sun Journal.

"When she told us this, all of our mouths dropped," Crocker said. "We were just so mad and confused about why they would do this."

In an email conversation with Crocker, she said, "They said that we would do more harm than good. Just because we were teens! Most people I know who have talked about us said that we were a great group of students. I think that a lot of people would stand up for us if they knew."

Although Crocker was quick to voice her frustration, she remained positive.

"We are still very upbeat about this," she said. "Every time Mrs. Gray tells us something new, we all get so excited."

As far as Gray and Amero know, work will resume at the cemetery at some point. Currently, regardless of the cemetery association's decisions, Gray plans to meet with Mary Cobb on Nov. 16.

When they meet, Gray plans to present her with the keys found in Martin's headstone and Cobb plans to bring some family artifacts, including a quilt belonging to Martin, who died in 1897.

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PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Further proof that no good

Further proof that no good deed goes unpunished.

Andrew Jones's picture

Sounds like the Monmouth

Sounds like the Monmouth Cemetery Association needs to elect a new president. What a jerk.


That the Cemetery Associates

Jon Cantin's picture

Young people should remember.

People should remember, "No good deed goes unpunished". You are doing the correct thing though, figure out the issues and work through it. The association does not intend to be mean, they are concerned about damage.


Mr. LeMaster--if your

Mr. LeMaster--if your "association" had been doing their job, maybe there would be no need for the students' and their teacher to clean-up. I hope these good Samaritans find another cause worthy of their kind help!

Jason Theriault's picture


Sounds like they are just being cranky. They should have been like "We would love to co-ordinate with such a great effort" instead of "Get off our lawn!"

The kids should find a better cause, maybe another cemetery.

Noel Foss's picture

No kidding.

They probably didn't like being shown up at maintaining their own cemetery by a bunch of teenagers...

 's picture

Monmouth Cemetery Assoc. should be ashamed

of their response to what appears to have been some very careful and well-executed clean-up work by these responsible students. I am just astounded to hear this. The kids know that they did a good job and should continue to feel proud of their efforts.

Bah humbug to the Monmouth Cemetery Association!!!

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Totally wrong response............

Cemeteries are incredible places to go and follow history. I got interested in reading head stones when I was a kid, down in Quincy Mass. I remember reading headstones from the 1600's. During my many trips accross country, I visited many cemeteries big and small. If there's one thing I hate is a buried graveyard. That is, branches and leaves allowed to accumulate over the years.
Every single person who has a friend or relative buried in a cemetery, becomes an expert in cleaning and pruning a grave site.
These students may need to have some instruction on the inner workings and maintenance of cemeteries. They should not have been in any way, scolded for what they did. Instead the Association should have praised their effort and discuss ways to quell the fears of the cemetery association. Maybe have an expert stone worker, work with a group and show them the proper techniques involved in stone restoration.
I was on an association in New Hampshire for a while, and one of the biggest obstacles we faced was the cost of simple maintenance. Having free landscaping, such as raking and cleaning the brush, is a huge benefit.
I say keep the kids involved, but educate them along the way. You will wind up with a beautiful cemetery, and some proud kids.........................

Carl Kimball's picture


In the Spring of 1970, a few of us, (young people), and an adult cleaned up that same cemetery for the first Earth Day. It was in a terrible condition for a spring cleaning. If someone was really taking care of it, then they should have lost that responsibility. I should hope this so called association would work with these students and train them in taking care of this great responsibility, may improve the appearance of this historic cemetery and maybe also the one up on Packard Road.

Robert McQueeney's picture

Communication is key

Way back when I was in school, the teacher explained to me that just trying to do something good may not be the best path. He went on to explain that suppose your father brushed the car against some bushes while backing out of the driveway. He may not appreciate you trying to re-paint the car that night with a can of Rustoleum paint. Asking your father to help buff out the scratches might have been a better choice, and he could have demonstrated and instructed the proper techniques.

Cemetery maintenance, while it seems simplistic, is not a well understood vocation. Headstones are decades and centuries old. What may seem as normal maintenance to the lay person, when done continually over the decades, can have a very detrimental cumulative effect.

Perhaps some contact with the people in charge of the cemetery at the start would have been the best place to start. For example, he could have explained that marble stones are especially soft and easily abraded and only trained professionals should do anything to clean them. Bear in mind, a single cleaning today will not have much effect, but cumulative cleanings over the years, decades and centuries can easily erase marble inscriptions.

While I am certain that many can see good intentions and really, teens cleaning an area shows good hearts in the case of these students, I'm guessing the caretaker saw improper methods being used. Perhaps only he, in this entire discussion, understands the damage that can occur. It may be a real interesting lesson if the school were to invite this man to class to give a lesson in cemetery etiquette. Shucks, I'd ask if I could sit in on the lesson myself.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Sheesh! If the association

Sheesh! If the association will not sanction help in maintaining the cemetery, then they should have a maintenance plan of their own in place. If the cemetery were adequately maintained in the first place, this would be a non-issue. It would appear that the students and their teachers did nothing to harm the grave markers and had sufficient knowledge so as not to cause any damage.


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