Pine Crest Cemetery Committee II Kicks Off Fundraising Campaign
The future of Vidalia’s historic Pine Crest Cemetery was the focus of a gathering at Brice House in the Charles community on April 26. The event was sponsored by the Pine Crest Cemetery Committee II to create awareness for its mission to improve and preserve Vidalia’s principal cemetery and to kick off Phase I of a fundraising campaign.
Among those mixing at the evening event were members of the Committee, City of Vidalia representatives, and those who have ties to the cemetery — either because they have relatives bur- continued from page
ied there or simply because they are interested in preserving and protecting the iconic site.
“We’re here to rally support for Pine Crest Cemetery,” Pine Crest Committee II Chair John Ladson told those gathered for the event. In relating how the Committee and its mission evolved, he said he first became truly aware of the condition of Pine Crest Cemetery after receiving a call from an elderly woman who had lived in Vidalia all of her life. She asked Ladson if he had taken note of the deteriorating conditions of the cemetery and asked what could be done.
“I was at a loss on how to respond. My focus had just been on our family’s plot (at the cemetery) and I had not been looking at it in general. I rode through Pine Crest and began to understand the lady’s concern. The landscaping at the entrance needed attention, the gates were rusty and needed painting, the roads were in bad shape, and the overall cemetery infrastructure was in decline.”
Ladson said he wondered why the woman had called him, but remembered that his mother, as a member of the old Vidalia Beautification Project, had been involved in an earlier effort to upgrade and preserve the cemetery. “All of this prompted me to go to City Hall and sit down with Bill Bedingfield, then the City’s Director of Finance. Bill told me about the City’s role in maintaining the cemetery and about an old Trust. He pointed me toward Charles Andrew. If Pine Crest has a godfather, it is Charles. For the past 40 years he has given freely of his time as an advocate for the cemetery.”
Andrew, a retired Vidalia attorney, supplied Ladson with background on the 1984 Committee of which he had been a part and outlined the complexities surrounding Pine Crest because of diverse parties developing additional sections over time. Andrew also emphasized the need for additional research. About two years ago, local funeral director Ron Hall, who was a first-hand witness to the deterioration of the roads within the cemetery, started fundraising to repair these roads. Ladson also met with Hall and asked about expanding the road project to fold in broader issues with the cemetery.
Ladson noted, “The Pine Crest Committee has worked steadily on a complicated puzzle. We are updating the directory of burials composed by Mose Coleman in 2000, and we have produced a consolidated map.”
Ladson noted that among the most of the most critical needs at Pine Crest is the uncontrolled access which provides an opportunity for criminal activity and vandalism at night, as well as illegal dumping on the cemetery’s perimeter. Automated gates will help solve these problems.
During the April 26 event, attendees received a copy of the newly-published Pine Crest Cemetery brochure that shares information on the creation of the Cemetery Trust and outlines the planned improvements. Also making its debut was the Pine Crest Cemetery logo and the Pine Crest web site (www. pinecrestcemeery.org.)
The new brochure states the importance of the cemetery which was established by the Mayor and Vidalia City Council in 1907 as “the” city cemetery. “Pine Crest…enshrines our town’s heritage in the most substantial and traditional forms. It honors the life histories of Vidalia’s families and founders — thousands of them. Seen at its best, it affirms our communal devotion to Vidalia’s first century.”
Pine Crest is the resting place for all but one of Vidalia’s mayors, as well as the community’s earliest physicians, ministers, most prominent founding families, and other community builders. There are literally thousands of stories about Pine Crest’s inhabitants, from military heroes to sports greats and beauty queens.
Emphasizing the mission of creating a covenant with the cemetery’s past, the brochure states the Trust’s mission of “combining the covenant and the hope that Pine Crest can become a place for the living also, and not just the dead. We want Pine Crest to be an enjoyable place to visit and respect that covenant and honor the lives of those buried there — those whose history is Vidalia’s history.” Creation of the Cemetery Trust II For the last year, the Pine Crest Cemetery Committee, City of Vidalia leadership, and legal counsel have collaborated to work toward the goal of making needed improvements to the condition and operations of Pine Crest Cemetery. Out of those efforts came Pine Crest Cemetery Trust II on March 6, 2023.
In 1984, an original Trust was established by a citizens’ committee for the benefit and maintenance of the cemetery with the Vidalia City Council as Trustees. Several issues were identified after the inception of this Trust. Donations could be accepted, but only the earnings were available for use — and these earnings have been negligible.
Until recently, the public areas of the cemetery were owned by three separate entities, but through the cooperation of the Murchison and Tollison families and the City of Vidalia, all property within the cemetery is now owned by Trust II. Also, the initial fundraising started by Hall has been expanded under Trust II.
Existing assets from Trust I will be merged into new funds raised in Trust II with the Vidalia City Council acting as Trustees in cooperation with a citizens’ advisory committee created in Trust II. The members of this advisory committee will be made up of members with an interest in the longevity of the cemetery. Planned Improvements
The Trust II Committee and the City of Vidalia have partnered to realize improvements at Pine Crest. Charles Andrew, as a member of the Trust I Committee, and is a member of the new Pine Crest Committee, has contributed countless hours of research to the project. Because of his diligence, property ownership issues (with the exception of burial sites) have been corrected. The mission of Trust I was absorbed into Trust II’s plan of action and a new fundraising campaign was planned to finance a list of short-range and long-range goals.
These goals include: Repaving and im proving condition of roads within the cemetery Repairing the en trance gates and fencing the street side perimeters of the cemetery Naming and identify ing roads to facilitate location of graves Adding permanent, attractive street signs naming all streets and lanes in honor of major donors Upgrading existing underground water lines to
maintain the landscape Establishing relax ation areas where visitors can sit and enjoy the quiet solitude of the cemetery. These areas will be named for families of donors.
Creation of an op erations manual for maintenance workers, funeral directors, and others working at Pine Crest. This will ensure the integrity of the cemetery for future generations.
Harry Moses, also a member of the Pine Crest Committee II, told attendees that since the project is a public-private partnership for which funding is critical, all contributions for Pine Crest are important — from $25 and up. “They are appreciated at every level.”
While the $250,000 the Committee is hoping to raise in Phase I will cover most of the immediate needs at the cemetery, ongoing contributions are vital because the street paving alone could cost $200,000 or more. The goal for Phase II is $100,000.
Trust II now owns Pine Crest Cemetery. The City of Vidalia, as Trustees, will accept tax-deductible donations for improvements to the cemetery. Checks must have “Pine Crest Trust” in the memo line and donation acknowledgements will be sent. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 2731, Vidalia, GA 30475.
Phase I of the Pine Crest fundraising project, “Generations of Growth,” involves families with generations interred at the cemetery who have a vested interest in its longevity. By investing in the final resting place of many of Vidalia’s citizens, families can continue their legacies in several ways.
Families donating at or above the $10,000 level will have the opportunity to name one of the 23 streets or lanes in the cemetery or one of the relaxation areas. These donations can be combined across larger families and the street sign can carry two names if desired. For instance: Smith-Jones Lane.
Naming opportunities will be granted in the following priority: total gift amount, date of gift, and, if equal amounts are pledged on the same day, a lottery will be used to grant naming rights.
Gifts of stock and other assets may also be made.
Vidalia Mayor Doug Roper, who was also in attendance said when he was first approached about Pine Crest he was struck by both “the level of complexity and the importance” of the project to preserve and protect the cemetery. “But when you think about those who are in their final resting place, who have gone before us, we stand on their shoulders and owe it to them to preserve Pine Crest for them and their legacies and for the generations to come. A publicprivate partnership is vital.” He credited City of Vidalia attorney Justin Franklin for his efforts in facilitating the project. “I know there is a long way to go but the City is committed to seeing this through. We want it to be a showpiece in the community.”
Ladson concluded, “Most everyone here has a connection with Pine Crest; they have family or friends buried there or understand the importance of Pine Crest as a repository of Vidalia’s history. Some of you see Pine Crest as an asset with potential enjoyment by living citizens. Whatever your sentiment and however you connect, Pine Crest is a sanctuary worthy of our care and respect. Please help us preserve and protect this hallowed ground in a manner that speaks well of and answers to the character of our community.” Pine Crest Committee II
John Ladson III, Chair Andy Thompson Bill Bedingfield Charles Andrew Connie Williams Dent Temples Fred Godbee Harry Moses John Warthen Larry Threlkeld Lorraine Anderson Patti Winn Reid Threlkeld Ronald Hall