‘GIFT OF GRACE’: City Cemetery hosts open house celebration for new maintenance barn

Published 3:35 pm Sunday, May 19, 2024

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NATCHEZ — The Natchez City Cemetery Association and partners on Sunday hosted an open house celebration of the new “big green barn,” the first maintenance barn raised at the cemetery in more than 100 years, said Liz Dantone, member of the volunteer Natchez City Cemetery Association Board of Directors.

“We are here to celebrate the gift of Grace, literally and figuratively,” Dantone said.

Rasing of the new barn was made possible through the generosity of the late Grace Augusta Manning, who died in 2020 at her home in Dallas, Texas.

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“She was born in 1927 in Tensas Parish and worked here (in Natchez),” Dantone said. “In her estate she bequeathed an amount of money that made this project possible. We were blessed with $400,000. I think that that is a substantial sum and boy did we squeeze every penny out of it. Let me tell you.”

Joining Sunday’s celebration were three generations of the Manning family. Grace Manning’s grave plot in the cemetery was marked with a white flag close to where the maintenance barn was built.

While the old 100-plus-year-old maintenance barn still stands, a new facility — with air conditioning and proper restrooms — was of great need. In addition to the storage shed for heavy equipment, the new facility also features an air-conditioned building with a full bathroom and shower and a half kitchen with a refrigerator and ice maker for breaks.

This is heavily appreciated by the maintenance workers in attendance Sunday, who have spent many hot summers working without those amenities.

The barn is also enjoyed by volunteers like JoAnn King, a member of Adams County Master Gardeners, and Robert Madison, who worked as a paid maintenance worker for the city cemetery for 53 years. Now 82 years old and retired in 2008, he still volunteers there regularly, Madison said.

Ward One Alderwoman Valencia Hall, in whose ward the City Cemetery resides, said she had toured the old maintenance barn four years prior before the new one was built.

“I was just appalled,” she said. “Something had to be done.”

Established in 1822, the Natchez City Cemetery is among the country’s oldest and most historic cemetery that still functions as an operational cemetery, “So this is a sacred place,” Dantone said. “This is a historic place and this is also a place of normal business. Normal business requires facilities. And that’s what we have to say thanks for today.”

In addition to the Mannings, the City of Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen and cemetery staff, Dantone thanked the other 23 women who volunteer their time and efforts to the cemetery board.

“There’s no other organization like this,” she said. “I tell you they are top-notch executors, decision-makers, business owners and we got a sense of humor too.”

They remain active in their efforts to raise support for the cemetery’s new structures, including the construction of a new Columbarium that is ongoing and should see completion in the fall.

Dantone also recognized Mark Fortenberry, the cemetery manager who oversees the day-to-day operations. She also thanked the architects for this project Johnny Waycaster and the Waycaster Dungan team.

The city cemetery still seeks donations to furnish the new facility and landscape its surrounding site with items to support its everyday use, such as picnic tables, seating and industrial shelving.

To support this effort, contact the Natchez City Cemetery at 601-445-5051.