Serving in the Community: One Grave at a Time

The LEAP Ambassadors spent their Saturday morning in an unusual manner: photographing graves in Oakwood Cemetery.

We were moved to participate in this activity through Just Serve, a program that seeks to match volunteers with projects. So we met our main contact, Judy Webb (a former SHSU employee), and got down to work.

The concept was to help researchers, particularly those involved with genealogy. We downloaded the “Billion Graves” app, and Judy showed us–and about 20 more volunteers, including Jeff Gardner from SHSU–how things worked. Our job is to take photos of graves, and the app then marks the location of that grave. Later, we uploaded the photos, and we transcribed the grave information for 281 graves: name, date of birth, date of death, and the epitaph. This information then becomes available for researchers online.

Grave site of William Franklin Baldwin (1847 – 1911), Elizabeth Jane Baldwin (1854 – 1944)

After a bit of wandering as we tried to figure things out, we settled into teams, with one team taking the north side and one team taking the south side. In addition to the photography, there was some light cleaning, such as picking up trash or cleaning off the tombstone so that it was legible.

Aside from our operational duties, we also tried to learn about Huntsville and its history. So, we learned about the Thomason family…

Grave site of Dr. John W. Thomas0n (1864 – 1942)

…the Adickes family…

…we found the graves of Joshua and Samuel Walker Houston, and, of course, visited Sam Houston’s grave.

Some of our discoveries were somber. We saw the graves of a family who lost four children: one died at 25, one died at 3, one died at 2, and one died the day of birth. We saw the grave of Mary Bobbitt; she was an English Professor at SHSU who went in for surgery over Spring Break, and she didn’t survive. The students found out in class the week after Spring Break.

Grave site of Mary E. Bobbitt (12 Oct 1916 – 17 Mar 1988)

We saw the recent grave of Judge Bill McAdams, and we saw the grave of James Patton, also fresh. It is, of course, appropriate that he is resting in the cemetery he did so much to research and preserve.

Grave site of James D. Patton (2 Sep 1947 – 5 Aug 2022)

We finished with a selfie with Judy Webb (from Just Serve) in front of Sam Houston’s grave. The epitaph, from Andrew Jackson, reads “The World Will Take Care of Sam Houston’s Fame.” And that is true, but sometimes his grave, and the entire cemetery, needs some tending to.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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