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Strangers give Spring Hill Cemetery caretaker perfect birthday gift

Spring Hill Cemetery caretaker Alyce Walker looks over graves Gulf Coast Academy students cleaned as a community service.

LOGAN NEILL | Times

Spring Hill Cemetery caretaker Alyce Walker looks over graves Gulf Coast Academy students cleaned as a community service.

BROOKSVILLE — On the morning of her 83rd birthday, Alyce Walker could not have been happier.

On Thursday, standing a few yards from where many of her family members are buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, she watched as more than two dozen Gulf Coast Academy eighth-graders busily raked and hauled leaves and debris from ancient moss-covered crypts.

For Walker, who for nearly 20 years has been caretaker of the historic African-American cemetery located off Fort Dade Avenue, it's been a good week. Thanks to the good-hearted efforts of bikers, students and others, the long-neglected cemetery is getting a much needed sprucing up.

"It's the best birthday present I could think of," said Walker as she held open a trash bag for some of her young helpers. "It's been a blessing from God."

More than 40 people showed up Saturday for a day-long cleanup effort organized by the Freedom Chapter of ABATE (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education). Using chainsaws, chippers and other heavy-duty equipment, the volunteers cut up more than two dozen trees and limbs that had been felled two months earlier to make way for some security lighting.

Freedom Chapter vice president Dan "Butch" Spell said his club members got some much-needed help from others in the community, including Davey's Tree Service, which supplied three chippers and trucks, plus crews to run them.

In addition, Dunkin' Donuts, Publix and Subway provided doughnuts, sandwiches and coffee for the hungry workers.

A few weeks ago, Walker got a call from administrators at Gulf Coast Academy offering to send students to help clean up around grave sites, some of which had been buried beneath fallen limbs. She praised the young helpers on Thursday for being both hard-working and respectful.

"They've been so nice," Walker said. "Their parents should be proud of them."

Over the years, Walker has struggled to maintain the cemetery, which has been damaged by trespassing vandals, partiers and ghost-seekers. With no budget for repairs, she has relied on the generosity of the community and the families of those buried there to help keep the place up.

"I do my best but it gets ahead of me," she said. "Thankfully, there are people out there with good hearts that want to help."

Spell said he hopes to return with members of his biker club in a couple of weeks to remove the remainder of the trees. Meanwhile, Walker is organizing another community cleanup beginning at 8 a.m. March 13. Anyone wishing to take part may call Walker at (352) 796-1283.

"I'm hoping that by spring it will be a wonderful place for people to visit," she said.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Strangers give Spring Hill Cemetery caretaker perfect birthday gift 03/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 8:43pm]

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