06/04/04 — Cherry Hospital dedicates cemetery monument

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Cherry Hospital dedicates cemetery monument

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 4, 2004 1:58 PM

Nestled in a wooded area near the State Employees Credit Union on West Ash Street is a place that many people have wanted to pay tribute to for a long time.

On Thursday, eight years of hard work came to fruition with the unveiling and dedication of a memorial monument at a cemetery where hundreds of former patients of Cherry Hospital were buried.

Mabel Sudderth, chief of standards management at the state psychiatric hospital, said that between 1927 and 1972, when the more than 700 people were buried in the cemetery, it was a troubled time in the history of caring for the mentally ill.

"These individuals lived and worked at Cherry Hospital," she said. "They farmed the land, they cooked their meals. ... They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and tried to heal themselves in a setting that was most appropriate at the time."

She said the ceremony was an occasion for honoring the memories of those who could no longer speak for themselves.

"We are the voices of those who are buried here," she said. "We are the echoes that they left behind."

Tanya Rollins, director of special services, said the idea of creating the memorial began in 1996 when $2,455 was raised through the joint efforts of Cherry Hospital and Life Underwriters in Wayne County. The project stalled until 1999, when the pastoral care and volunteer services departments merged.

Along with renewed interest in the project, she said, were additional goals to beautify the cemetery, preserve its history and construct a visitors' parking area. She said there were questions about the boundaries of the two cemeteries, because it was believed that there were a number of unmarked graves, and records from that era were incomplete.

The suggestion was made to enlist the help of a college archaeology classes to help locate the boundaries. East Carolina University students worked in March and November of 2002, surveying the cemetery site, recording information from the marked graves and locating unmarked graves through mapping and soil removal.

Ms. Rollins said that there are now 700 marked graves, but estimated that thousands of other people were buried on the land.

The proposal to create a monument came from Facility Maintenance Manager Don Edwards. He suggested it be made out of granite steps salvaged by his father in 1939 from the original central complex.

The stones were located and fashioned after a winning design selected through a contest sponsored by the Cherry Foundation, Ms. Rollins said.

She said a number of volunteers have also assisted in the project over the years. Among those mentioned who attended the dedication ceremonies were Boy Scouts Shivar Person, who designed and constructed the visitor's parking lot; Josh Berens, who designed and placed a cross near the river, and added two information boards; and Todd Putnam, who built and placed identifying markers on each row of graves.

Also at Thursday's hour-long dedication ceremonies were city and county officials and others from the community. They gathered at the monument, which also features a brick walkway and two benches that were added in 2003.

Dr. Jerry Edwards, hospital director, said the project had been a personal dream of his and the hospital administration.

"The significance of those steps that were transformed and the many hours of work spent on the grounds by many volunteers, both speak to our acknowledgment of the past and its importance," he said. "We pay tribute to the hundreds buried here before us, known and unknown."

He said his hope is that the area be a place for family and others who visit to find comfort and solace.

Dr. Jerry Burton, hospital chaplain, shared a story about a man whose grandmother was among those buried in the cemetery. When he asked to be shown to her resting place, though, it soon became apparent that she was in an unmarked grave. Still, he said, the young man told Burton he felt a peace at having been there.

"There are 700 stories of that nature in our cemetery today and we continue with our dedication," he said.

Robert Kornegay, retired personnel director from Cherry, said that despite some of them being unmarked, each person had a name and a life. Each one, he said, had touched the life of someone else.

Kornegay said he was proud of the strides that have been made over the years in the care and treatment of the mentally ill.

"Through the past 58 years, I have had the opportunity to come to know many that are buried here," he said. "It's important to dedicate this monument to the hundreds of patients buried on these grounds. Their lives should not be forgotten."