by Valerie Golembiewski
In a secluded area of the Old Vail Middle School campus, 21 simple white crosses stand as silent sentinels to 21 unknown souls. They are not nameless, only unknown to us.
There is no name for this hallowed resting place, only mounds of dirt surrounded by rocks with a few cacti and a chain link fence guarding their remains.
It is speculated that the cemetery dates to the 1800s, and may possibly contain victims, mostly children, of a smallpox or flu epidemic. Or they could be railroad workers who died or were killed on the job. Or they are possibly early settlers in the Vail area who did not survive illness or the heat. Whatever their origins and eventual fate, they are at rest.
It was not always so. Through the decades, the cemetery was neglected. Weeds grew and burrowing animals created homes.
Recently, an enterprising young scout, aiming for his Eagle Scout status, adopted the cemetery as his project. Under the guidance of his scoutmaster, Stuart Nielson, of the Catalina Council #719, and with the consent of the Vail School District, Seth Svob and his team went to work. It was hard work indeed – clearing the weeds, sweeping the dirt and pebbles into recognizable mounds, and removing the accumulation of years of detritus.
At the same time and unbeknownst to Seth, Ted Golembiewski, a parishioner from St. Rita in the Desert, across from the cemetery on Colossal Cave Road, heard about the cemetery from Jeanne Lichtas, Director of Development at St. Rita’s. He and his wife, Valerie, visited the cemetery and were dismayed that it had fallen into such a sad state.
They decided that it would be fitting for the deceased to have new crosses to mark their final resting place. Jeanne and her family volunteered to help with the clean up. After a silent prayer, Ted removed one of the crosses and brought it home to his garage workshop, where he lovingly crafted 24 new wooden crosses. Due to the inability to determine the number of graves at first glance, he made 24, just to ensure that each remains would have a cross. He painted them white and visited the cemetery, and to his astonishment, he found the area cleared.
After contacting the Vail School District, he was informed by Al Flores, Director of Facilities and Transportation, that Seth was responsible for sprucing up the cemetery. Ted contacted Seth and they met on Friday, June 25th. Ted presented the crosses to Seth, who prepared to install them the next day. After attending Mass at St. Rita’s on Sunday, June 27th, Ted went to the cemetery and was impressed with the work.
When interviewed Seth said that he has been a scout for 5 years, with numerous badges previously earned. His brother, Nic, is already an Eagle Scout. Rounding out the family are Seth’s parents, Mark and Connie, and his sister, Kadie.
Seth is a senior at Cienega HS. He plans to attend Pima Community College for 2 years and then transfer to the University of Arizona where he will major in Business Administration.
It has taken Seth 4 months to plan and accomplish his project, assisted by 17 people, as well the Golembiewskis. The actual physical labor involved three Saturdays. A final touch was replacing the front fence, repairing the gate, and adding a lock.
In November, on All Souls Day (a Catholic celebration of all those who have died) the pastor of St. Rita’s, Fr. John Allt, will bless the graves and ask God to grant these unknown individuals eternal rest and peace.
Well done, Seth! You have definitely earned your Eagle Scout status. As long as there are individuals like you, there is hope for the future. The dead shall forever be remembered with love and care.