What a whirlwind week and a half! Starting with Thanksgiving, we quickly progressed into the “Thanksbuying” holidays with the annual events of Black Friday and Cyber Monday…which has been extended now to Cyber Week. A shining diversion to the unbridled, holiday-related spending of the period came in the form of charitable donating on Giving Tuesday.
Many people are well aware of Giving Tuesday, also stylized as #Giving Tuesday for social networking purposes. This event, occurring on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, celebrated its 5th anniversary this past week, as it began back in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City along with the United Nations Foundation. The “tongue in cheek” response to the post Thanksgiving commercialization of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has steadily been growing in popularity, now firmly established as an international day of giving at the beginning of the holiday season. An accounting showed that $10 million dollars was raised on the first Giving Tuesday. The amount has grown steadily each year since, with early estimates from this past Tuesday being reported at over $60 million.
I’m proud to announce that Mount Olivet Cemetery had some involvement in this great day, albeit a small entrée into something much bigger for the future. Thanks to the generosity of our Board of Directors, an amount of $25,500 was collected in order to establish our newly formed Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund (MOCPEF) with the Community Foundation of Frederick County.
For over a decade, the Mount Olivet Board of Directors have entertained the idea of establishing a preservation-themed fund with the Community Foundation. The idea was first pitched, and championed by Colleen Remsberg, longtime Board member and immediate past president. In 2014, the Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund was incorporated, but it wasn’t until December 2016 when the cemetery took the next important step to move forward—filing an application with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) public charity. The mission of this charity reads as follows:
The mission of the Mount Olivet Cemetery Preservation and Enhancement Fund is to assist in the conservation of the natural beauty and historic integrity of Mount Olivet Cemetery and to increase public knowledge and appreciation of its unique, cultural, historic, and natural resources through charitable and educational programs.
Putting this in layman’s terms, the cemetery’s Board wants to take steps to preserve the history of this great “garden cemetery,” a community institution since the 1850’s. In doing so, they want to safeguard the cemetery’s historic records, structures and grave monuments therein. We have taken a bit of a head start in 2017 as can be exemplified by things such as these “Stories in Stone” articles and our monthly lectures. In addition, we’d like to expand upon cemetery walking tours, visitor assistance with genealogy and family history of those interred here, special events and anniversaries, educational partnerships with school field trips, interpretive displays such as historic waysides and unique commemorative plantings. Best of all, we will have the opportunity, and more so the financial support to preserve and repair broken and illegible gravestones and monuments in the cemetery’s historic section.
Many people assume that “downed,” and leaning grave markers are products of vandalism or shoddy care. This is incorrect. Most have toppled due to the fact that graves of the 19th century lacked the underlying support foundations that are commonplace in the cemetery’s 20th and 21st century interments. Early graves and reburials lacked vaults of any kind, others consisted of brick vaults or simple “over coverings” of a casket with a slab of slate stone. Over time, the weight from above has caused a collapse as the slate and brick has given way. In other cases, most monument dies are simply held up by iron rods. Moisture can get to these inner pinnings and rust them out. Ground movement underneath (as mentioned), or a strong wind can fell these tombstones at will. In addition, fissures can develop based on weather, causing a stone to crack or a delicate angel’s wing to break. Weather and pollution are also to blame for monument discoloration and other things like algae growth and mineral buildup on marble and granite stones alike.
With these problems, who’s responsibility is it to make repairs? Well, the stones are the property of individual lot holders. The cemetery comes into play with any damage done by cemetery staff, mowing vendors, or acts of nature/God such as a tree or branch collapse. Sadly, In the case of the historic area of Mount Olivet, descending generations have passed on, and many monuments are presently unvisited, and unclaimed, as families moved from the area, or simply “died” out. The new Preservation Fund will allow us to proceed with repairs, and in some cases, elaborate fixes can be attempted requiring specialized craftsman. One of our long range goals is to make inventories of our prominent and unique monuments here at Mount Olivet, representing not only prominent folks from Frederick’s past, but serving as testaments of outstanding art works of early craftsmanship.
Mount Olivet received a positive determination letter back from the IRS in late February, 2017. In doing so, people can now donate to the fund and deduct contributions they make. The Mount Olivet Cemetery Preservation and Enhancement Fund is qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts. At once, we started researching how other historic cemeteries around the country are running foundations of this sort, including board oversight, fiduciary management, special programming and outreach. To establish a relationship with the Community Foundation of Frederick County was an obvious necessity.
With roots dating back to 1986, the Community Foundation allows members of the Frederick community to establish charitable funds that are then distributed to nonprofit agencies and other social services throughout Frederick County. The cost of establishing a fund with this great organization is $25,000. Colleen Remsberg gave the initial pledge of $10,000 and started the ball rolling for us toward the goal of $25,000. In doing so, she challenged her fellow board members.
December 1st had been set by the Board as the projected date to submit the paperwork agreement with the Community Foundation. At our last Board meeting, this past Monday (November 27th), the challenge to raise $25,000 was reiterated to the cemetery’s directors, with the deadline of Friday, December 1st. At the same time, I made sure to mention that the following day was none other than Giving Tuesday, and this week could be considered Giving Week for Mount Olivet.
As mentioned earlier, the Board Directors answered the call! Special thanks goes to Colleen Remsberg, President Tim Horman, Vice President Emil Bennett, Vice President Andy Radcliffe, Treasurer Jim Summers, Bruce Jett, Dale Summers, Mary Ann Frank, Connie Snook, Bert Anderson and cemetery superintendent Ron Pearcey. One additional donation of note also came from the Board’s legal counsel, Clay Martz. On Friday, December 1st, I had the privilege of accompanying Board member/Preservation Fund committee chair Bert Anderson to the Community Foundation’s downtown office to drop off the fund agreement and an envelope of checks totaling $25,500.
While sitting in the Community Foundation office and discussing our future plans to their staff, I was again reminded of the importance of Mount Olivet and all those buried here. Our interred cemetery population of over 40,000 represents a mirror of the Community Foundation, or better yet, the foundation for our Frederick Community. It’s a “who’s who” of Frederick’s past, with grave memorials and monuments keeping alive the names and memories of those who truly gave us the Frederick that we cherish today.
Yeah, there’s Francis Scott Key, Barbara Fritchie and Gov. Thomas Johnson, but let’s not forget the contributions of former community pillars and veterans whose names grace our streets, parks, businesses. It is these people who gave back to Frederick through their dedication, vision, unselfishness, and money. They formed, or gave birth to, our many church and civic groups, beneficial societies, non-profits and charitable organizations that have aided our citizenry and community for centuries—and the same we hopefully remembered on Giving Tuesday. Mount Olivet Cemetery is more than just a burying ground, it’s a “museum without walls.” This fund, and future support will ensure that it continues to thrive and stay relevant into eternity as these life “Stories in Stone” are certainly worth preserving.
For more information on giving, please contact the Community Foundation by clicking on the logo below.