More than a decade ago, a trip to Delaware for a funeral planted an idea inside Don Holder — to develop a local cemetery just for veterans and their spouses.
Now, that cemetery stands as a final resting place for more than a dozen men who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
Holder, an Air Force veteran who served from July 1951 through July 1973, said he attended that Delaware funeral for the wife of his best friend, and saw that she was laid to rest in a cemetery dedicated to veterans and their spouses.
“There wasn’t anything like that around here,” he said recently, adding he is not aware of any other privately managed veteran’s cemeteries in North Carolina.
The 1-1/2 acre burial ground next to Antioch Baptist Church was part of his farm, but had been divided from the rest of his land because of some rights-of-way changes. After attending the funeral of his friend, he realized the best use of the plot was to create the cemetery there, where those who have served the nation can be laid to rest without cost, a courtesy extended to their spouses as well.
In addition to the burial plots, there is a columbarium on the grounds — a small structure where the ashes of those who have been cremated can be interred.
When Holder started the project, in 2012, he had little more than the land available — and that was covered with trees and stumps. He deeded the property to Veteran’s Park in Mount Airy, and then went on a fundraising tour of the community, getting monetary donations from many, as well as a tremendous amount of donated labor and material.
“Howard Hull and Billy McCraw must have spent two months out there pulling up stumps and taking down tress, they did a lot of work, for nothing,” he said.
Likewise, many area businesses donated granite, marble, and other building material, as well as labor.
Among those firms, he said, were Ararat Rock, which donated 17 dump loads of gravel, and Mount Airy Granite gifting the project a good bit of granite.
“Acme Stone donated the columbarium, that’s probably the most expensive thing up there,” he said, adding that Mark Stevens from Acme Stone also donated his time to help construct and set up five stone columns, each dedicated to the five branches of U.S. military.
Holder said from those first efforts it was two years before the cemetery was ready, with its first burial taking place in December 2014, when Stephen Earl Keith, a 64-year-old U.S. Army veteran, was buried there. Now, Holder said the cemetery has “eight to ten” veterans interred there, as well as another ten in the columbarium. He said he suspects the cemetery can accommodate about 200 burials.
Thus far, he said all of those laid to rest there have been veterans, but each grave has been dug in a way that leaves an adjacent space for their spouse.
One of the things he wants most to do now is to let area folks know the individuals and companies who helped him in his effort. In addition to him and his wife, Doris, he said others involved include Debra and Bob Walker, Page Smith, John Springthorpe and South Data, Seal Brothers, Howard Hull and Hull Saw Mill, Billy McCraw and McCraw Trucking, Mark and Kathy Stevens of Acme Stone, Chris Hawks of Hawks Concrete, David Williams of Blue Ridge Concrete, Jim Crossingham of Ararat Rock, Carol and Tom Booth and Belinda and Gray Hawks, Rick Sowers of Sowers Construction, Kester Sink, Jack King of King Welding, Gloria Lawrence, VJ Hawks, Julia and Leon Fleming, Mike and Sheila Riffe, Johnson Granite, NC Granite, Taylor’s Garage, Moody Funeral Home, and Doug Joyner.
While the recent addition of five flags, one from each branch of the military, was the final touches on the development of the cemetery, he said donations can still be made for the maintenance costs and later improvements.
“Anyone who wants to donate for the upkeep of the cemetery, contact me at 336-401-6034 or Doug Jones at 336-488-8774,” he said. Anyone wishing to inquire about burial at the park can contact Jones, Holder, or Moody Funeral Home.
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