It was more than swimming and sailing that tired out the campers who attended Camp Whitman’s Mission Trip Base Camp last week.
These campers spent much of their time doing physical labor at Finger Lakes sites that needed a little extra help. On Wednesday, the group spent several hours at Glenwood Cemetery in Geneva — unearthing hidden gravestones and trimming grass and sod to make the headstones more visible.
Overseeing the campers was Diane Hoener of Lakeville, Livingston County, who said this is the second year Camp Whitman on Seneca Lake has offered its mission-themed camp. Earlier in the week the campers were in Yates County, working at three sites run by Arc of Yates and at the Yates Community Fitness Center — where they washed windows, moved the weight machines and cleaned underneath them and erected a natural fence along an outdoor nature trail.
On Wednesday — with trowels, shovels, clippers and spades in hand — they fanned out in Section 16 of the cemetery and got busy. Most of the work involved digging sod and grass away from the overgrown headstones. In a few cases, the campers had to push up headstones that had fallen over. The group included nine campers, four staff members and Hoener.
The campers and staff hailed from such close-by locales as Waterloo, Seneca Falls and Palmrya, and from some more farther afield like Horseheads, Victor, Byron, Ithaca, Spencer, Avon and Rochester. Two of the counselors came all the way from Ireland and Mexico.
The group stumbled upon a visitor to the cemetery, and asked the man to share details of his loved ones and even prayed with him for his family, Hoener said.
“And the gravestones that are taken care of, we just pray for them,” she said.
For many, cleaning up the graves was only part of the project. Many conversations centered on trying to decipher the life stories behind the names inscribed on the headstones. Hoener said the group was trying to find the oldest headstone and discussing the cause of death for a 13-year-old boy. In one section of four stones, they surmised there was “a good love story” at play among those buried there.
“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Hoener said.
Carrie F. of Avon, a counselor, and camper Emily M. of Palmyra, agreed that the cemetery cleanup was their favorite site of the week so far (on Thursday the group would stay at camp and do cleanup and maintenance projects there).
“I think we’re all enjoying talking about the hypotheticals — who these people were,” Carrie F. said.
Emily M. was enjoying the mystery of the work, digging up one headstone just to find another nearby. She also was intrigued by the servicemen buried in the cemetery, and had found World War I, World War II and Korean War veterans.
Their enjoyment was a bit unexpected. Hoener said on Tuesday evening, some of the campers had expressed some hesitation about working in a cemetery.
“They were weirded out,” she said.
But once they got there and to work Hoener had nothing but praise for their efforts. She also noted that on Monday, when the temperatures hit the mid 90s and the humidity was high, the campers didn’t slough off.
“They [took some breaks] but they came back and did more,” she said. “Kids like to work. They benefit from it. People today don’t allow kids to do good work.”