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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

Henricus Historical Park to host Publick Day Sept. 20

Henricus Historical Park will commemorate its anniversary during Publick Day, a signature annual event that celebrates the establishment of the second successful English settlement in the New World. In September 1611, Sir Thomas Dale, along with soldiers, tradesmen and farmers, ventured from Jamestown to create the Citie of Henricus. Leaders of Henricus developed the first English hospital, chartered the first college in North America, established tobacco as the first cash crop in Virginia, and created a place where Pocahontas lived and met John Rolfe.

Publick Day will take place Saturday, Sept. 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and parking is $5 per vehicle. > Read more.

Commonwealth Parenting, CMoR-Short Pump to present 6-part parenting forum series

As part of its 30th anniversary year and partnership with the Children's Museum of Richmond, Commonwealth Parenting will present a six-part RVA Parents Forum Series to address some of the toughest issues confronting parents.

Parenting experts and family educators will tackle topics ranging from bullying to alcohol, sex to divorce, and technology and stress. Parents will learn how to identify potential problems.

"We're excited about bringing this much-needed forum series to parents in central Virginia. Through our valuable partnership with Commonwealth Parenting, we can have a deeper impact in the community through parent and caregiver education," said Karen Coltrane, president and CEO of the Children's Museum of Richmond. > Read more.

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.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Check out these three B’s in Henrico this weekend: books, bluegrass and “Born Yesterday.” Other activities to participate in – and feel good about – are the 15th annual James River Regional Cleanup and the 5th annual Richmond Out of the Darkness Community Walk. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

When the cliche stands tall

Inspirational football movie tries too hard for its own good
When the Game Stands Tall is based on a true story – an unbelievable true story that takes the word “inspiring” about as far as it can go.

It’s a film about Bob Ladouceur, coach of the De La Salle High Spartans, a California high school football team with 12 consecutive undefeated seasons (a staggering 151 games won in a row).

Along the way, Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel) faced the kind of hardship most football coaches (thankfully) can only imagine – suffering a near-fatal heart attack, the death of a star player, and rebuilding the team after that 151-game streak came to a humiliating end. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Enjoy political comedy at its finest with The Capitol Steps at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Methodist and Baptist churches unite for the fourth annual Mission Footprint 5K, taking place at Trinity UMC. Or in honor of Grandparent’s Day on Sunday, treat them to A Grand Family Affair or maybe a movie – the 1978 film “Superman” is at the Henrico Theatre. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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