There appears to be hope for Mount Hope Cemetery.
More than 50 volunteers descended upon the south Akron cemetery on Saturday, cutting high grass, trimming weeds and clearing away piles of branches, leaves and other debris that had clogged the cemetery and its roadway.
Mount Hope, one of the city’s oldest cemeteries, had fallen into disrepair in recent years after the association that ran it disbanded, leaving no one in charge of the eight-acre plot of land that houses as many as 10,000 graves, some dating back hundreds of years. Mount Hope is bordered by South Main Street, Cole Avenue, East Emerling Avenue and Sweitzer Avenue.
After several Beacon Journal articles appeared about the situation at Mount Hope, Akron Councilman Donnie Kammer organized a cleanup. Kammer represents Ward 7, which includes Mount Hope under council’s recently approved new ward lines and he wanted to take action now.
Once he put the word out, plenty of volunteers came forward.
“This is awesome,” Kammer said Saturday, surveying the dozens of people at work.
Pat and Harry Apostolos came all the way from Worthington outside of Columbus to take part.
Apostolos said her mother, Ferne Winter, was buried at Mount Hope in 1999, and her grandparents also are buried there. When she read about the planned cleanup, she was eager to volunteer to improve their resting place.
Kammer said the couple may have traveled the farthest to help, but many volunteers were motivated because they have a loved one buried in the cemetery.
Ed Cikity of Lake Township came to work along with his wife, son, siblings and nephews. Cikity said his family was at the cemetery when his mother, Ruth Cikity, was buried there in February 2012, and he was shocked at the state of disrepair. Cikity said he and his four siblings get together regularly and talked as recently as June about making a family day to clean the area near where their mother and grandmother are buried.
When his sister saw the article about the cleanup, the family signed up to help.
“It was pitiful,” Lynn Cikity Volovsky of Green said, describing the cemetery at the time of their mother’s death.
Volovsky is a member of St. Demetrius Serbian Orthodox Church in Copley Township, and said many members of the congregation or their ancestors are buried in Mount Hope. Numerous church members were among the volunteers and are hoping to donate money to help do more, Volovsky said.
Kammer said he was pleased with the outpouring of help. Estes Hauling Service donated a large dumpster to collect and haul away the debris and workers from the nearby Akron Paint and Varnish also volunteered their time, he noted.
Mark Clark of Akron took on the job of walking the rows of gravestones and making notes on which ones need to be repaired. Despite the condition of the cemetery, he was pleased to see that most of the stones had not been vandalized. Many were grown over with weeds and worn from weather and age, but few were broken.
Helping Clark was Caleb Cass of Medina, one of a group of volunteers from First Baptist Church of Medina, who were taking part in Saturday’s Big Day of Serving.
The cemetery cleanup was one part of the larger Big Day of Serving that took place in Akron Saturday, in which youth volunteers, like Cass, from throughout Ohio came to Akron to work on 16 different service projects in the city, including cleaning up Rolling Acres Mall on Romig Road, working at Mud Run Golf Course, painting at Lock 3 Park downtown and trying to improve Mount Hope.
Big Day of Serving is a national effort sponsored by Group Missions of Loveland, Colo. Tony Myles, lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, is in charge of the Akron effort. He said more than 150 youth took part, helping with painting, landscaping and cleanup projects with a theme of “repair.”
While Mount Hope was looking better after its cleanup, its future remains in limbo.
The city’s law department is researching who technically owns the cemetery since the association disbanded and is responsible for taking care of it, burying those who have prepaid, selling the remaining 550 plots, and maintaining cemetery records.
Kammer said several folks have offered to take a role in running the cemetery and maintaining it, and others have stepped forward to offer money to help, but nothing has been decided so far.