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Finding Pearl

Evergreen Cemetery clean-up reveals lost family gravesite
It’s typical to think of graveyards as gloomy, bleak and desolate places.

But on a recent spring-like day in February, Evergreen Cemetery bustled with cheery workers wearing breezy smiles, and echoed with the sounds of youthful exuberance.

Almost 50 students from Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Union University had turned out, along with a dozen or so other volunteers, to help Welford Williams (pictured above, with students) reach his mother’s side for a long-overdue visit.

Williams, age 87, last visited his mother’s grave in 1972. He had just retired from the U.S. Postal Service, and brought his six-year-old daughter Bridgette to the cemetery.

Forty years ago, he told the volunteers, the vegetation was already beginning to take over. But Williams could recall a time when the cemetery was nothing but grass and headstones. As a 10-year-old, he had hunted for Easter eggs among the grave markers.

“[This] was wide open then,” he marveled, gesturing at the tall trees and heavy overgrowth surrounding his mother’s grave. “It looked just like Hollywood Cemetery.”

In the years since, however, vegetation has all but obliterated grave sites, roads and pathways, making it impossible for Williams to get his bearings and find the plot.

So it was only natural that Williams’ ears perked up when, at a meeting of the Henrico Historical Society, he heard John Shuck mention a project to spruce up Evergreen.

“My mother is buried there,” he told Shuck.

Ever since, said Shuck, he’s been on a mission to find Pearl Williams.

‘Almost mystical’
A recent winner of the Award of Merit from the Henrico Preservation Advisory Committee, Shuck began visiting cemeteries while pursuing his interest in genealogical research.

On his first visit to Evergreen in 2008, he recalls being completely overwhelmed. The cemetery, which sprawls along the city-county border in eastern Henrico, was used as an illegal dump for decades. On one early trip there, Shuck and his fellow volunteers took just two hours to fill a large dumpster with tires from the site.

“You had to bushwhack back then,” he said. “You couldn’t walk through here.”

Since then, Shuck and his colleagues Vicki and John Stephens (who also received awards from HPAC) have spent many a Saturday clearing wide paths through the underbrush, uncovering graves and even sections of paved road. The addition of so many VCU and VUU volunteers, he says, has provided a huge boost of manpower to the group and accelerated the pace of the clean-up project.

And in mid-February, just off one of the newly-cleared paths, volunteer Dave Campbell stumbled upon the grave of Pearl E. Williams.

“I was just exploring,” recalled Campbell. “We’ve been looking for it for two years. [I thought], We’re never gonna find this thing – and then there it was. I just stood staring at if for a minute. It was almost mystical.”

“The way it was standing up there,” added John Shuck’s wife, Debbie, “it was just waiting to be found.”

A week later, Welford Williams arrived at Evergreen with wife, several daughters and a few grandchildren in tow. Led to his mother’s side, he placed flowers around the grave.

“I don’t think Momma will mind me stepping on her,” he said with a smile as he arranged the flowers.

“She’s probably glad to see you,” called out a family member.

Good-looking bunch
After everyone posed for pictures, Williams said he wanted to address the students. Passing around photos of his parents, and a baby picture of himself, he described the night that his mother was laid to rest.

She died three weeks after Pearl Harbor, he told the volunteers, on Christmas night. The funeral was held so late in the evening that car headlights had to be used to illuminate the grave.

Among the family members that Williams introduced was his daughter Bridgette, who had stood on a tree stump by the grave on his last visit in 1972.


Today a pre-kindergarten teacher at Glen Lea Elementary School, Bridgette Williams was ecstatic at seeing the long-lost site again.

“This is incredible,” she exclaimed, noting that her cousins in Philadelphia had been thrilled when she contacted them with the news. “One, she’s crying, because she never got to see her grandmother’s grave.

“They can’t come from Philly,” she said, “but I’m sending pictures.”

Her sister Winifred was quick to chime in with high praise for the student volunteers who had helped bring the moment about.

“You always hear about the bad [regarding young people],” said Winifred. “You never hear about the good, about kids like this.”

Their father, eyes shining, clearly echoed the sentiment.

“What a good-looking bunch of young people -- I don’t see no ugly faces nowhere!” Welford Williams told the smiling students. “I will never forget this day, meeting you, and finding my mother’s grave.

“Excellent work!”
Community

Celebrating 106 years

Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.

YMCA breaks ground for aquatic center

YMCA officials gathered last week to break ground on the new Tommy J. West Aquatic Center at the Shady Grove Family YMCA on Nuckols Road. The center, which will featured 7,600 square feet of competitive and recreational space, including water slides, play areas for children and warmer water for those with physical limitations, is the fourth phase of a $4 million expansion at the facility. West was president and CEO of Capital Interior Contractors and a founding member of the Central Virginia Region of the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. > Read more.

Rotary donates to ‘Bright Beginnings’

The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Enjoy the final days of summer with comedian Guy Torry, the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour or mystery writer Mary Miley Theobald at Twin Hickory Library. Another great way to welcome the beginning of fall is to check out the UR Spider Football season opener with man’s best friend. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Bottoms up

Short Pump brewery offers more than just beer
I am still (happily) thinking about my entire experience at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery last week. Knowing nothing about this new brewery out of Denver, I was leery of brew-pub in the heart of Short Pump Town Center – this is not what I’d usually think of as a perfect fit, and yet, it was.

The restaurant and craft brewery opened in early June and features 10 beers made by female brewmaster Becky Hammond (pictured). This is the restaurant’s second location in Virginia; the first is in Arlington. Behind glass walls, customers watched the beer brewing in massive steel barrels. For our up-and-coming beer region, it makes sense that Short Pump would jump on board.

As I walked up to the back of the mall near the comedy club, I was taken aback by what I saw: at the top of the stairs was an overflowing restaurant with outdoor seating, large umbrellas and dangling outdoor lights. > Read more.

Cultural Arts Center announces 2014 fall class schedule

The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen is now registering participants for its fall 2014 schedule of classes.

The center will offer more than 100 classes for children and adults, covering topicssuch as culinary arts, fiber arts, visual and performance arts and more. Instruction is structured to appeal to a wide range of abilities, from beginners to experts of all ages. Class sizes are kept small to ensure maximum benefit for participants with generally no more than 15 students. > Read more.

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