COMMUNITY SERVICE DAY Volunteers clean cemeteries


It was a chilly day to be planting yesterday, but Gwen Hays was busy planting weeds.

Tending green beds of the ivy-like vinca, Ms. Hays was among about 10 residents of the St. John's Lane area who showed up to beautify the Whipps Cemetery as part of Howard County Community Service Day. Several hundred county residents went out in the morning to perform projects that included cleaning streams, raking leaves and planting flowers in common areas, and collecting food for charity.

"They called this 'cemetery weed,' " Ms. Hays said as she stood up between headstones dating to the 1830s. Vinca vine was common in cemeteries of that day, and members of the St. John's Lane Community Association, of which Ms. Hays is president, and Friends of the Whipps Cemetery are hoping that it will help make the graveyard look as it did when it was maintained.

Ms. Hays and neighbors Barbara Sieg and Clyde Humphrey wrestled with a gnarled piece of locust that looked more like driftwood than a fence post. They were trying to keep it upright while they laid landscaping fabric and spread mulch around it.

At one time the locust posts, strung with barbed wire, probably kept grazing animals from disturbing the graves. More recently, the posts weren't enough to keep bulldozers and debris from adjacent homebuilding from knocking down the headstones.

The community has worked since 1986 to restore the acre that remains of the cemetery.

In western Ellicott City, another cemetery was being tended by its neighbors. Members of the Friends of St. Mary's Cemetery and Preservation Society held their first organized cleanup of the 3-acre cemetery in Turf Valley Overlook.

The county chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving used Community Service Day as a chance to kick off its Red Ribbon Campaign, which encourages people to wear red ribbons as a sign of intolerance to drug and alcohol abuse. It also launched its "A Mile of Quarters" project, which seeks enough of the coins to stretch a mile. MADD organizers have estimated the quarters would total $15,840.

The money will be split among Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education, Students Helping Other People, and the county MADD chapter's youth programs.

Volunteers meeting at the Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City got the projects started by taping labels to jars and stapling red ribbons to information packets to be mailed to county civic organizations, businesses and students.

As they started, County Executive Charles I. Ecker visited the church to proclaim Red Ribbon Week in Howard County, which begins Monday.

In another Service Day project, in Columbia's Thunder Hill neighborhood, about 10 members of Cub Scout Pack 834 volunteered to clean up the stream behind Thunder Hill Elementary School, snagging discarded cans and bottles tossed into or near the stream.

The boys, ages 6 to 10, ran into Pack 838, which was picking up litter on playgrounds, paths and the schoolyard in that neighborhood.

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