By David Mack-Hardiman, Contributor

For the past five years, employees and individuals associated with People Inc. have been engaged in the restoration of three cemeteries in the Southern Tier. More than 2,000 graves were discovered for residents of the J. N. Adam Developmental Center, The West Seneca Developmental Center and, The Gowanda Psychiatric Center. Volunteers toiled away in the summer sun, recording each grave, gently cleaning the stones, edging around the markers and, uncovering those headstones long buried by time. Some of the gravestones were numbered and some had small name plates. In addition, volunteers planted flowers and shrubs, trimmed nearby bushes, and, straightened monuments which were tipped or fallen. People Inc. erected two monuments, a new sign, and a heart shaped garden in the different locations.

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At the Jolls Road Cemetery in Perrysburg, N.Y., some 400 graves were discovered on a sloping hillside. Many of these had no headstone or marker. People Inc. installed a beautiful monument there and held the first “Ceremony of Remembrance” in October of 2006. On this chilly autumn day, the sun came out, almost on cue, when the names of the deceased were read.

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In 2007, our spirited volunteers moved on to the Gowanda Psychiatric Center Cemetery on Route 62. Officials of the Collins Correctional Facility gave their consent and assistance to the project with mowing and landscaping. Information about each grave was recorded and each was photographed and cleaned. Care was given not to damage any of the stones by strictly adhering to the “do no harm” philosophy. A Jewish section was discovered beyond a grove of trees. Many of these graves were numbered and some had small name plates. Each was distinguished by the religion of the patient—a cross for those who were Catholic, a wreath for those who were Protestant and, the Star of David for those of Jewish origin. A monument containing a quote from Helen Keller was unveiled at the second, “Ceremony of Remembrance.” People Inc. also erected a beautiful new sign on Route 62. In one of the more dramatic moments of the ceremony, a Red Tailed Hawk who had undergone rehabilitation was released back into the wild.

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For the past three summers, the volunteers have devoted their time to the Wheater Road Cemetery in Gowanda. This cemetery was older than the previous and essentially abandoned with exception of occasional mowing. Always up to the challenge, our group uncovered and cleaned some 500 stones that had sunken over time. This laborious effort was undertaken with assistance from other local groups and college students. Cast iron numbered markers were straightened and the surrounding vegetation was trimmed back so that all of the graves were visible. In culmination of this effort, a third remembrance ceremony was held in September of 2011. The stirring sounds of the bagpipes could be heard echoing through the hollow. Families who were searching for the graves of long lost loved ones were assisted in finding them after the ceremony. A beautiful heart shaped garden was constructed and numerous red tulip bulbs were planted throughout the cemetery.

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Next Spring, we will shift our attention to a different cemetery in Niagara County which became the final resting place for residents of the Niagara County “Poor Farm.” Special thanks to all of our dedicated volunteers for their diligence in this incredible effort!