Groundskeepers show respect at memorial park

  • Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013 12:55 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE (AP) — Dale Westphall and James Dickinson knew the rakes in their hands and garbage bags in their back pockets weren’t going to cut it.

With fall foliage littering the ground of their workplace, the pair could tell it was going to be a leaf blower kind of day.

At least their clients — the eternally restful of Lafayette Memorial Park & Mausoleum — wouldn’t mind the noise.

Westphall and Dickinson are two of several of the cemetery’s groundskeepers who begin their workday after most have completed their early morning commute. They’ll spend several hours cleaning and performing upkeep of the cemetery’s 32 acres.

It’s a job both men treat with reverence.

“I take care of the cemetery — every stone and marker — as if it were a member of my family,” said Westphall, who has worked as a caretaker for 12 years.

“You want to be as respectful as possible,” said Dickinson, a caretaker for nearly four years.

The pair’s tools of compassion one recent morning consisted of heavy-duty gloves, rakes, leaf blowers and garbage bags.

Their job, essentially, is compassionate landscaping.

“It’s a quiet job,” Westphall said. “You don’t even really hear the cars going by (on Ramsey Street).”

A few dozen feet from that busy thoroughfare, Westphall and Dickinson diligently removed the scattered leaves, raking them into piles for easier collection. They deposited the piles into large black trash bags, working in near silence. Despite the size of the cemetery and the numerous piles of leaves they’d create, it would be an easy day for the caretakers.

Some days are more challenging than others, however. Some days, there are graves to dig. Some days, there are grieving families. Some days, there are grave markers that need polishing, cleaning, repairing or even spell checking. Some days, the weather is fair; some days, it’s foul.

And some days there’s time for a visit.

“My best friend is buried here,” Dickinson said. “He died when he was 18 — that was a long time ago. When I found out he was buried here, I said I’d try to visit his grave every day I could. There are a lot of people here I knew. That makes me want to do the best job I can.”

The pair, along with their fellow caretakers, will spend the next few hours looking after their restful charges before packing up their equipment and repeating the process at Lafayette Memorial Park West cemetery’s 4 acres.

“It’s a different kind of job, but I feel good that I get to take care of people’s loved ones,” said Westphall, “so they’re not forgotten.”

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