Henrico man marks 5 years of restoring order, respect to historic cemetery

Henrico man marks five years of restoring order and respect to historic cemetery

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Everyone has a story to share, but not everyone is still around to share it. That's where a Glen Allen man comes in.

John Shuck spends much of his retirement life in a historic cemetery that, for a long time, was neglected and forgotten.

However, through his dedication, he's helping a community uncover stories of the past while educating generations of the present and the future.

In the heat of the sun, surrounded by the hum, and at times, hazards of nature, John Shuck walks, and walks, and walks.

"I actually see wildlife out here," said Shuck.

He sees a lot since he is out working at least once a week. But the 70-year-old doesn't walk the grounds for his health - he walks for its history.

"It's part of the community's history," said Shuck.

The East End Cemetery, a 16-acre resting place for African-Americans founded in 1897.

"We have no burial records, so we don't know how many people are buried out here," said Shuck. "My estimate is somewhere between 15,000 and 17,000 people."

You could say Shuck is a history and genealogy buff, his passion for it sparked when he was in college.

"I found a book my grandfather had purchased. It was about his family tree...so, I got interested in it," said Shuck.

His interest turned into an investigation, where he learned cemeteries play a significant role in revealing more about individual families and communities.

"I had never seen cemeteries that look like this," said Shuck. "There weren't graves being maintained. It became woods. Literally. I mean, you had to bushwhack through it."

And that is exactly what they did, and continue to do.

"We think we've got half the cemetery cleared of its original overgrowth," said Shuck.

For five years now, under Shuck's leadership, thousands of volunteers have come together - armed with gloves, tools, trash bags and machinery to uncover and clean stones defiled by invasive plants and invasive people. It is all to help connect families and communities of the present with their members of the past.

"We've uncovered 3,000 readable grave markers so far," said Shuck.

With each newly discovered stone comes insight into a past tradition, along with a new name to research.

"There are two of us that go and research on Ancestry.com the lives of these people so that we can make connections," said Shuck.

Because of that, they have helped to re-introduce some of history's heavy hitters - like Rosa Dixon Bowser, the first black teacher hired in Richmond, along with William Custalo.

"He was the wealthiest colored businessman in Richmond at that time when he died," said Shuck. "This is history, people that were historical in the community. I mean, we may not know how they were important in the community, but it's part of the community's history."

Which is why Shuck works and walks tirelessly to leave no stone unturned, making sure this sacred site of history lies hidden no more.

"It takes a community to do this. it takes a team. I can't do this by myself," said Shuck.

Before heading to the East End Cemetery, Shuck also spent five years cleaning up the neighboring Evergreen Cemetery.

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