Restoring Honor: Volunteers rally to clean up historic cemetery

Doña Ana Cemetery cleanup on Saturday April 22, 2017. (Credit: CBS4/KFOX14)

What is supposed to be a place of honor and respect is instead a place time forgot and nature overran.

"This is terrible. All these veterans are being disrespected, let alone all the other people who are buried here," said American Legion Post 10 Commander Bob Richie.

The first cemetery in the village of Dona Ana contains about 75 graves. Or, at least, that’s anyone’s best guess. Some of the graves, which are at least 150 years old, are unmarked.

Former New Mexico state Senator Mary Jane Garcia grew up in Dona Ana.

"This is my village, my heritage,” said Garcia. “My family buried here."

Back in March, a handful of volunteers began the daunting task of cleaning up the cemetery. Mesquite, sage brush, tall grass and trash hid the small grave markers and modest headstones. Among the people buried here are veterans of the Mexican-American War, Civil War and Spanish-American War.

CBS4 first reported on the volunteers' efforts back on March 3rd. Following that report, CBS4 teamed up with its sister-station station, KFOX14, to organize a cemetery cleanup day on April 22nd. What we needed were volunteers, and we got way more than we expected.

"We talked to the teens and we said, 'Look, there's a cemetery out there that has been forgotten,’” said Weed & Seed Youth Coordinator Felipe Briseno. 'Let’s go out there and clean it,' and they were excited about it."

The first volunteer to show up was Staff Sgt. Luis Castro from Fort Bliss. Volunteers were asked to arrive at 8:00 a.m. Castro arrived at 5:36 a.m. He was also the last volunteer to leave.

Another volunteer was retired school teacher Robert Quintana. He didn’t know that he was in for the shock of his life.

“When we started cleaning up this cemetery, someone said, 'Mr. Quintana, do you remember this?' I said, 'My God, that's my great-great grandfather’s grave. ' Here I am, I can't find any information of my history and there it is, buried in my own backyard,” said Quintana. “This is America. If you look at it, this is America. This is who we are, people who come out and help each other."

Volunteers came from all walks of life and from all across the Borderland.

"Boy Scouts, military, the Centennial High school football team,” said CBS4 and KFOX14 general manager Kevin Hayes. “It takes a community, it takes a village."

"This is absolutely fantastic. I couldn't have asked for a better turnout," added Richie.

Maybe the most surprised of all the volunteers was Pay It Forward sponsor Michael Gopin.

"When I first started Pay It Forward, I never expected to see hundreds of people to get together for any one given project,” said Gopin. “That's what it's all about. That's what Paying it Forward means.”

There are many, many people and organizations CBS4 and KFOX14 would like to thank for volunteering with the cemetery cleanup.

  • Mesilla Valley Disposal
  • Centennial High School football team
  • Felipe Briseno & Weed & Seed
  • Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America
  • Bob Richie and American Legion Post Ten
  • John Flores and V.F.W.
  • Mr. Peter Stone.
  • Ms. Mary Jane Garcia
  • Ms. Sylvia Guzman
  • Staff Sgt. Luis Castro – Fort Bliss
  • New Mexico National Guard
  • Rudy and Claire Trevino
  • Jamie and Melanie Trevino
  • Kelly Jameson
  • Ofc. Kevin Apodaca – Dona Ana County Codes Enforcement
  • The Franco Family
  • Benny Nevarez – A&J Plumbing
  • Matthew and Zac Wallace – BSA Troop 10
  • Marie Melendez
  • John Huereca
  • Leo and Drina Ramirez
  • Roberta Lujan
  • William and Janette Roach
  • Curtis Crawley
  • Cesar Uribe and Family
  • Teresa Reyes
  • Jennie De La O Carbajal
  • Lurethia Moten
  • Kelly Coleman
  • Letty and Ashely Byers
  • Larry ‘Cookie’ & Shauna Carmona
  • Andy Guerra
  • Frank Magana
  • Robert Coleman
  • Victoria Lockhart
  • Bob Lockhart
  • Sean Lockhart
  • Colby Borac
  • Betsy Harthorn
  • Zach ‘Rootbeer’ Alley
  • Sarina Ortiz
  • Ralph Mendez
  • David Giron
  • Gregory Gonzales
  • Lambda Chi Alpha
  • Student Nurse Association
  • Johnny Flores
  • J. Eric Sletten
  • Vicente Reyes
  • Xochitl Reyes
  • Mariselia Reyes
  • Pedro Mercado
  • Greg and Peggy Brown
  • Laura Boget
  • Jessica Creed
  • Daphne Romero
  • Nora Rodriguez
  • Entire CBS4 and KFOX14 Family
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