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Honoring veterans with downtown cleanup

Roughly 50 volunteers gathered Saturday morning for a cleanup of Oak Lawn Cemetery in downtown Suffolk.

Members of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation were joined on Saturday by local girl scout troops, members of First Baptist Church Mahan, the Suffolk (VA) Chapter of The Links Inc., the Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America and the Nansemond Chapter 31 Order of the Eastern Star, Prince Hall Affiliation.

There were also veterans, as well as students from both Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools.

“I was looking for people to come, but I wasn’t expecting this many people to come out, (and) we got a lot done today,” said Reginald Dirtion, president of The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation.

The volunteers spent hours working in the sunny, breezy morning at the cemetery, located on a corner lot behind the city’s Human Resources Building at 440 Market St. They cleared out shrubs and overgrowth, broke down large branches and picked up trash. Branches and other debris were collected in garbage bags and trucks.

It was an impressive turnout, and foundation members were thankful for the support.

“I’m truly grateful for all of the volunteers that came out,” said Oulaniece Saunders, vice president for the foundation. “They worked extremely hard, from the youngest to the oldest. We look forward to seeing them and many others at upcoming events.”

The cemetery dates back to the late 19th century and there are hundreds buried in the lot, including John W. Richardson, president of the Phoenix Bank of Nansemond, and Wiley H. Crocker, founder of the Tidewater Fair Association and Nansemond Development Corporation.

There are also veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World Wars I and II. Lt. William H. Walker, a Tuskegee Airman, is among them.

Legislation passed this year by the General Assembly will provide state funding to help maintain Oak Lawn Cemetery and other African-American cemeteries throughout the state. The foundation will receive funding to clean, maintain and reset headstones and also repair more severely damaged markers.

Carlena Scott, troop leader for Girl Scout Troop 313 and Service Unit 360 in Suffolk, was out there at the cemetery on Saturday with several of her scouts and their parents. She said that her scouts were very excited to do their part to honor those buried at the cemetery.

“They thought it was really important because there’s a lot of people here – people that served,” Scott said. “They thought that this was a great cause to help clean up the cemetery and honor those people.”

The foundation plans to have restorations finished in time for Memorial Day on May 27, when an open house will be held to reintroduce the cemetery to the Suffolk community.

Visit oaklawncemeterysuffolk.com for more information.