By Edna Ward
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” That quote, part of the famous editorial by Francis Pharcellus Church, printed in The New York Sun, Sept. 21, 1897, is still true in Opelika, Ala., today.
Three Santas came to Memory Hill Cemetery, July 4 and 5, just outside Opelika on Highway 280. They were not dressed in red suits or riding in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. They came in pick-up trucks with trailers filled with three huge lawn mowers and large weed eaters.
They had the know-how, strength, and ability to work surely and safely. The much different (from usual lawn equipment)heavy equipment did the job perfectly. With all the recent rains, the grass at Memory Hill was taller than knee-high, some nearly waist-high. Some of the grave markers, with floral tributes beside them, were nearly hidden under the grass.
Ricky Jones, a retired veteran, has cut the grass there for a couple of years on a voluntary basis but now his lawn mower needs some repairs. Arthur Lee Jones, Chairman of the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission made an appeal on radio for anyone wishing to make a donation but not one responded.
So, the proverbial Plan B was needed. The Cemetery Commission met and attempted to address the problem. Several calls were made looking for a volunteer with a tractor and bush hog to bring the grass back under control. That’s when William “Bill” Satterwhite decided to meet that need. He recruited Gerald Bell and Jordan Dreyer to help. They came ready to take care of the trouble; and they did. Even with their heavy mowers, parts of the cemetery had to be cut twice to bring the grass back under control. This work took place over two days, July 4 and 5.
Lee County has been so blessed with many fine people who have given of their time and talents to bring a good many cemeteries back to a respectable shape.
This story is about Satterwhite, Bell and Dreyer. We truly appreciated all they did. We do believe there is a Santa. In fact we believe there were three of them and It was indeed Christmas at Memory Hill on July 4 and 5.
Memory Hill was established as a private cemetery with perpetual care. Many of Opelika’s citizens are at rest there. Ownership of the cemetery has changed several times. The last owner left town and took all the assets with him. Perpetual care died, too.
After the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission (LCCPC) was created in 2004, Memory Hill was among our earliest projects. It was abandoned, overgrown and in terrible shape. That changed with a lot of hard work and attention. LCCPC receives no funding from the county or state because most cemeteries are on private property and taxpayer funds cannot be used there. Contributions are the only source of income for LCCPC. We don’t need a lot of money. Our biggest needs are elbow grease, time and stamina to keep these sacred places in favorable conditions. It’s a fantastic way to get a free work-out and feel good about the accomplishment at the same time. Anyone wishing to volunteer, please contact Arthur Jones, 332-7196 or Edna Ward 745-6713. Memory Hill Cemetery, Lee County, Alabama.