Mercy Academy senior’s compassion leads to restoration of cemetery

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River Valley Cemetery, one of five Metro Parks and Recreation-maintained cemeteries in the city of Louisville.

By Aaron Henry 
Digital Content Specialist
Contact Aaron

We often look at a cemetery and think of loved ones that have passed on from this life. Unfortunately, some individuals do not have a family to remember them when they pass. River Valley Cemetery is one of Louisville’s final resting places for the homeless, often referred to as an Indigent Cemetery. It is one of 5 different cemeteries managed by the Metro Parks and Recreation department.

Each person in River Valley Cemetery is given a proper burial and a marker with their names and life span. Unfortunately, over the years many of these markers have been lost due to natural erosion and weathering. This has resulted in a number of grave sites with missing identification. Although heartbreaking, one local Girl Scout felt compelled to search for those whose identity had been lost to the elements.

Rebecca Dever, a senior at Mercy Academy made it her mission to help restore River Valley. She was first introduced to the site over Labor Day weekend while praying over those residing at River Valley. This was during a Cardboard Village project with her youth group at St. Gabriel The Archangel Catholic Church. The project is designed to raise awareness about the homeless the struggles they face day to day.

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Metro Parks and Recreation Volunteer Coordinator Laura Ryan (left) helps Dever restore a gravestone at River Valley Cemetery.

Over the last year, Rebecca has worked diligently towards the identification and rehabilitation of unmarked grave sites at River Valley. As a member of the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana for 14 years, Rebecca is completing this massive undertaking for her “Gold Award” project. It is the highest achievement in the organization, and the equivalent to the Eagle Scout award in the Boy Scouts. Rebecca began this initiative one year ago and continues diligently working.

Rebecca has worked alongside Metro Parks Volunteer Coordinator and AmeriCorps Administrator Laura Ryan, and various Coroners offices throughout the city to identify each person buried at River Valley. Rebecca has even collaborated with Kroger, by collecting 400 pounds of plastic in order to produce a bench to be installed at the cemetery. She has also discussed plans of headstones for each grave with Kirk Dolan, who oversees the cemeteries maintenance.

She has found most of her information from the Joseph of Arimathea Society. An organization connected to the catholic high schools that participate in the burials of the deceased homeless.  She continued her search by contacting numerous homeless shelters around town, such as St. Johns Center and St. Vincent de Paul. She often referred to the National Coalition of the Homeless to provide answers to possible gaps in names.

Rebecca’s research was also aided by a directory located at River Valley. She coincidently discovered that the directory was created by her substitute teacher’s son. The Directory was his initiative in order to earn his Eagle Scout award.

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Next Year is the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana. To celebrate, Rebecca plans to dedicate 100,000 service hours with the help of her troop for the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

Rebecca wishes to make River Valley not a resting place where individuals are forgotten, but rather a memorial to the less fortunate. Rebecca Dever has shown an insurmountable level of compassion and determination to hold onto the memory of those who have gone before us.

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