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John Jarrett Peters: Cemetery trustees shown a lack of respect

Sep. 08, 2013 @ 03:56 PM

This is an open letter to the superintendent and elected members of the Wayne County Board of Education. This is from the newly formed Board of Trustees of the John Wellman Cemetery.

It seems the only way to communicate with you (the board) is through the newspaper and the ballot box. We have not received a response from our registered letter sent to you dated March 28, 2013. A signed receipt by you for the letter shows it was received on April 3. Five months ago.

This letter concerned the cemetery in front of the new K-8 school in Fort Gay. We requested a ground radar procedure be done on the cemetery to establish the number and location of the graves. We also requested a meeting with you and that we be placed on the agenda. This request was also ignored.

The reason we petitioned the court and formed a Board of Trustees was so we could work with you. You had said the cemetery had no trustees with any legal authority. You, after being duly served by the court, refused to appear at the hearing on Dec. 18, 2012, before the Honorable Circuit Court Judge Darrell Pratt. It was ordered by the judge after the hearing that a copy of the petition be sent to your attorney.

We believe there are several graves (possibly 5 to 10 graves and maybe more). All headstones have been vandalized and destroyed. The Wayne Co. Board of Education has owned the property (8 1/2 acres) surrounding the cemetery (1/8 acre) since 1947, 65 years. We know that buried here is the Father of Wayne County, John Wellman, and his wife Nancy Webb and also Samuel Short and his wife Elizabeth Breeden. Samuel Short was the very first pioneer settler arriving here in 1796. There are numerous decedents of these two couples here in Wayne County and throughout this great country. Our goal is simply to honor, preserve and protect this cemetery. If we don't respect those who have gone on before us, we will not be respected now or when we are gone.

It is unbelievable how this cemetery has been allowed to be desecrated. A letter was sent to you dated April 16, 2011, from the Wayne County Genealogical and Historical Society, while the athletic field was still in use. It was requested that a temporary fence be put around the cemetery to keep cars from parking on the graves. This letter was also ignored.

You apparently, in preparing for the opening of the new school, have recently graded and landscaped the cemetery without contacting or getting permission from the trustees. This grading has probably erased any chance of identifying the number and location of all the graves. It seems, you have also ignored WV State Cemetery Code 29-1-8a and 61-8-14, which clearly provides penalties and strict protection of cemeteries like this one.

We take no issue with you in responding to a letter from the W.Va. Division of Culture and History in Charleston recommending a fence to be placed around the cemetery. This was announced at your meeting on July 2, 2013. We, however, as neighbors and taxpaying, voting citizens in Wayne County are saddened that you chose to ignore our letter. It is embarrassing that we cannot explain to our friends and relatives when asked why you will not respond to our letter and, as the professionals you are, the total lack of respect you've shown for this cemetery.

This is another example of why the actions or lack of actions by you may have led to the defeat of the bond election last December and could possibly affect the levy to be voted on in November. The sad reality is the children of Wayne County are the victims. You are charged with setting an example for our children and are the current leaders of our future leaders. John Wellman and Samuel Short, as the great pioneer leaders they were here in Wayne County, could be a great history lesson for our children.

You can learn more by going to website www.wcghs.com and clicking on the John Wellman Cemetery.

John Jarrett Peters is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the John Wellman Cemetery.

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