Cemetery board breaks ground on new facility

Published 5:16 pm Saturday, June 24, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Natchez City Cemetery Board President Terry Stutzman on Friday called Grace Augusta Manning’s generous gift “manna from heaven.”

For many years, the city cemetery’s governing board has wanted to make improvements to the cemetery’s 100-year-old barn, which is where cemetery equipment is stored and also provides the only shelter for the cemetery’s hard-working maintenance staff.

Despite the need for an improved facility — one with air conditioning and proper bathrooms — money to pay for that was illusive.

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The generosity of Natchez-born Manning, who was born in 1927 and died in 2020 at her home in Dallas, Texas, changed all of that.

Manning, who was raised in the Waterproof, Louisiana, area and is buried in the Natchez City Cemetery, set aside $400,000 in her will as a gift specifically to help the cemetery’s workers, Stutzman said.

“She graduated from LSU and became a teacher. Later she programmed computers, but she wouldn’t have one in her home,” she said.

Her family uses words like glamorous, opinionated, a lover of traveling, lots of fun and a hard worker to describe Manning, Stutzman said.

“She earned her money through hard work and she appreciated others who did the same. But perhaps the word that we would all use to describe Grace Manning is generous,” she said.

Cemetery Board Member Liz Dantone, who is an architect, is coordinating the construction project with architect Johnny Waycaster and his staff and Lee Blanton of R.L. Blanton Construction.

City cemetery staff, board members and benefactors and Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson, First Ward Alderwoman Valencia Hall and Third Ward Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith and other city dignitaries attended the groundbreaking at the cemetery Friday morning. Visit Natchez’s Roscoe Barnes III said the prayer at the beginning of the ceremony.

“This was a dream that the cemetery board has had for years and now, thanks to the generosity of this very special lady, the dream would come true,” Stutzman said.