Onesquethaw graveyard part of a state pilot project to recruit volunteers for small cemeteries

— Photo Onesquethaw Union Cemetery Association Facebook page

The Onesquethaw Union Cemetery is part of a statewide day, on April 27, to clean up small cemeteries.

NEW SCOTLAND — The Onesquethaw Union Cemetery in Feura Bush is the only Albany County cemetery listed as participating in the state’s inaugural Caring for Your Cemetery Day, on April 27.

Volunteers should bring rakes and shovels — “whatever they’re able to use,” said MaryEllen Domblewski, the treasurer of the Onesquethaw Union Cemetery Association. 

Volunteers, she said, will pick up branches and debris left from the past winter’s ice storms.

“We’re hoping to get community members and families of people who have loved ones in the cemetery,” Domblewski told The Enterprise.

All of the association’s board members are volunteers, she said, and many of them are part of families that have served for generations. Domblewski’s father and grandfather both served on the board before her.

“It’s right around the corner from my house,” Domblewski said of the cemetery. Her stone house, built in 1807, is where her grandfather was born and where he died at the age of 100 in 1995.

The Onesquethaw Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and includes 25 houses with farm buildings and a number of related archeological sites clustered in the Onesquethaw Creek Valley. Included are several impressive 18th-Century stone houses, four of which are located within a mile or so of a historical marker erected last September.

“We’re trying to modernize our outlook,” said Domblewski of the cemetery association, noting the group now has computerized records and a Facebook page, and accepts payment through Paypal.

As treasurer of the not-for-profit association, Domblewski files an annual financial report with the Department of State, she said, which is how she found out about and pursued being part of the pilot program.

She checked with the association’s president, Samantha Moak-Bryan, who said to go ahead. “So I did,” said Domblewski.

The pilot program, according to the Department of State, is to generate interest in local cemeteries, especially among young people, and to recruit future volunteers or even officers as well as identifying local people with skills that cemeteries need.

The Enterprise frequently runs letters from small local cemeteries, pleading for funds to cover mowing and maintenance costs. The state program has been timed for spring ahead of Mother’s Day visits.

“Protecting our cemeteries benefits our communities, preserves our history, and provides individuals with a place to mourn and reflect,” said Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez in a release from the Department of State. “Our goal is to teach a new generation of New Yorkers about the importance of our communities’ cemeteries.

“If you want a creative way to get involved in your community, try volunteering at your local cemetery and help future generations learn to appreciate the history, culture, and unique stories our cemeteries offer.”

The mission of the department’s Division of Cemeteries is to ensure that regulated cemeteries do not become a burden on their communities by continuing to operate on a not-for-profit basis. The division regulates approximately 1,700 not-for-profit cemeteries in New York state by, among other things, providing technical assistance in cemetery operations and financial accounting.

The division also offers training workshops year-round to educate cemetery operators and others on how to maintain cemeteries, keep financial records, and try to ensure long-term viability.

The department lists these tasks among those that may be performed by untrained volunteers on April 27: cleaning up small debris and trash; removing downed branches, weeds, and overgrowth; removing old seasonal decorations; planting flowers; and scattering grass seed.

The cleanup at the Onesquethaw cemetery, located at 1889 Tarrytown Rd., will start at 8 a.m. on April 27 with a rain date the following Saturday, May 4. Domblewski anticipates the volunteers will work until about noon and says light refreshments will be served.

Volunteers need not register ahead, Domblewski said. “They can just show up … The more people we have, the quicker it will go.”

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