Project restores dignity to Willard's deceased - Catholic Courier

Project restores dignity to Willard’s deceased

Some dignity has been restored to the 5,776 former Willard Asylum patients who now rest in Willard Cemetery. On Sept. 21 the Seneca County Highway Department installed a sign designating the area as a cemetery and giving some basic information about it.

When Colleen Spellecy, a member of St. Mary Parish in Waterloo, first visited the cemetery she was appalled to find an overgrown and unkempt meadow that was mowed no more than twice a year. Furthermore, many of the original grave markers — which were marked with numbers rather than names — had been moved and replaced with concrete-filled pipes dug into the ground and labeled with corresponding numbers.

Believing the state of the cemetery to be an insult to the dignity of the thousands buried there, Spellecy launched the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project last March with the goal of erecting a sign designating the area as a cemetery and a marker on the grounds to memorialize those buried there.

The new sign, which was donated by Oaks Corners-based Elderlee Inc., informs visitors that 5,776 departed Willard patients were buried in the cemetery between 1870 and 2000. The project’s first goal now has been achieved, but members of the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project Committee still hope to recognize the deceased by name on a memorial in the cemetery. Spellecy and committee members have been working with John Allen, special assistant to New York’s commissioner of mental health, who explained the deceased may be named only with the approval of a living relative.

Committee members will learn more about state and federal privacy laws and then begin searching for the deceased’s living family members. They also plan to transform the cemetery into a respectful and parklike place. On Nov. 3 the Waterloo Lions Club presented Spellecy and the committee with a check for $1,000 to further these efforts.

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