Join the effort to maintain Smithfield’s cemeteries

Join the effort to maintain Smithfield’s cemeteries

Members of the Friends of Smithfield Cemeteries plot out their next move while cleaning Smithfield cemetery #11. From left are Bill Shaw, John Hardman, Neal Rogers, Bob Morris, Chris Butler and Cathy Shaw.

SMITHFIELD – Since 1998, a small group of volunteers with an average member age of 75 years old meets every other Saturday on warmer days to clean up as many of the 120 cemeteries in Smithfield as it can tackle.

The volunteers are members of the Friends of Smithfield Cemeteries, said member Bob Buonaccorsi, known by many in Smithfield for his years teaching at the high school. He said that a cemetery is much more than a burial ground or graveyard, and the group has found much more than gravesites over the years.

“A visit could offer a lesson in town history. Names, such as Angell, Appleby, Barnes, Evans, Farnum, Harris, Mowry, Smith, Sprague, Slack, Thurber, Tucker, Waterman and Whipple are found in these sites,” Buonaccorsi said.

Over the years, he said, Friends of Smithfield Cemeteries has cleaned and maintained 120 cemeteries, making sure every site has a sign, that fallen stones are reset, and that broken stones are repaired.

At times, junior high school students have participated in supervised grave rubbings and researched the history behind the names on graves.

Other lessons can be found in the beautiful poems with a mixed representation of English and Old English, said Buonaccorsi. From a scientific standpoint, people can discover different types of stones used for graves over the years, and how each has withstood the test of time.

Buonaccorsi said Smithfield cemeteries vary in size, number of graves, and environmental factors. In Smithfield, the smallest site has one burial and the largest has hundreds.

“With so many sites, we need townspeople to help,” he told The Valley Breeze & Observer. Buonaccorsi said cleaning cemeteries can be used for community service hours. Scouts, families, and community organizations such as business and civic groups have helped.

“Think it over, it’s our town’s history,” Buonaccorsi said.

Member George Tuetken said families or community organizations, such as the Smithfield Rotary Club, adopt some 40 to 50 cemeteries. Still, there are many more that need attention. He said adopting a cemetery requires about 10 to 12 hours of work each year, and he suggests a three-hour cleanup once in each of the three warmer seasons.

On work days, the group meets at the Leo Bouchard Conservation Center at 225 Pleasant View Ave., at 9 a.m. Within 15 minutes, the group selects three to four cemeteries to clean up for the day, and members then head out. Tuetken said cleaning ends at noon.

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The next session is on Sept. 11.

“It’s quick and easy, nothing too hard,” Tuetken said.

He added that the groups provide all the tools, including rakes, chainsaws and lawnmowers that are needed to clean up.

“We have everything we need to get it done except the people to use them,” he said.

Tuetken said he joined the group in 1999 when he saw a picture of a parent to one of his children’s teammates in The Observer. He highlights one cemetery each week on the group’s Facebook page.

Smithfield typically pays the group $500 per year for its services, with the majority of funds going to supplies.

Tuetken said most of the funds pay for epoxy to repair stones, a product that has almost doubled in price since COVID-19. One tube, which costs around $23, may fix one or two gravestones, depending on the number of cracks.

For more information on the group, or to volunteer or adopt a cemetery, contact Tuetken at 401-595-1444, founder Don Burns at 401-231-8996, or Buonaccorsi at 401-349-4074. More information can also be found on the Friends of Smithfield Cemeteries Facebook page.