BROOKSVILLE — Alyce Walker watched with wonder Friday as a crew from Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative began stringing wires between power poles at the Spring Hill Cemetery.
Despite the scorching sun and stifling humidity, the 84-year-old Walker said she wanted to witness the operation from start to finish. And she planned to be there at dusk for the big moment when the six security lamps were to be turned on for the first time.
"I'm thinking of having a card party out here tonight," Walker said, with a smile. "Now, I'm not afraid to be out here after dark."
For Walker, who has acted as caretaker for the historic African-American cemetery since 1991, protecting the dignity of the 334 people who claim Spring Hill Cemetery as their final resting place has always been a challenging mission.
With modest grave sites, some of which date back to Civil War times, including many of Hernando County's most prominent African-American families, the 3.8-acre cemetery along Fort Dade Avenue is hidden by thick woods, making it a popular gathering spot for partying teenagers.
After years of enduring the aftermath of nighttime vandalism, drug use, even grave robbing, Walker figured if she couldn't keep people out, at least she could make it so they couldn't hide from law enforcement, which makes periodic checks on the graveyard.
Three years ago, Walker got an offer from WREC officials to install and partially pay for lights, as long as she could get trees within the cemetery's perimeter cleared. With only a limited budget for upkeep, Walker had no money to hire a professional tree-trimming company.
An offer by friends in 2009 to cut the trees for free turned sour when some trees fell errantly around the property and damaged graves and other structures at the cemetery.
Left with a mess to clean up, Walker didn't know what to do until she got a call from Dan Spell, vice president of Freedom Chapter of ABATE (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education), a statewide bikers rights group, with an offer to clear away the trees at no charge.
With the site ready for the light poles, Walker made arrangements with WREC supervisor Ron Lawson for the installation.
"They've been very patient and very helpful to me through all of this" Walker said of the power company. "This wouldn't have happened at all if it wasn't for them."
Although this part of her mission is now complete, Walker said she is far from finished. She hopes to get an irrigation pump donated so that she can plant and maintain flowers and shrubs around the grave sites.
"God tells me to always be hopeful, so I try to be," Walker said as she surveyed the cemetery. "I look around here and I see people finally resting in peace. That's what I hope for."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.