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Join PT, Other UK Faculty and Staff, to Help Beautify Cove Haven Cemetery

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

Cove Haven Cemetery needs a friend — and the College of Health Sciences is trying to provide as many as possible.

The site, located at 984 Whitney Ave., was established in 1907 and is a historic black cemetery with a proud tradition of serving the local community. But due to the volunteer nature of how it is run, it needs help with upkeep and general beautification.

“It’s super-rewarding to be able to help like this,” said Brian Noehren, PT, PhD, FACSM, and a professor in the department of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Sciences who has helped clean up the cemetery in the past. “We need a great turnout. I know people want to help. Now is a great time.”

Staff Council is collaborating with the Physical Therapy department to help clean up and beautify Cove Haven from 8-11 a.m. on Oct. 16. They are asking everyone to please consider volunteering or donating items to serve our community and this historic cemetery.

They plan to work on a variety of projects, including: cleaning military grave markers and a memorial, planting and mulching flower beds, cleaning the fence line and trimming down tree branches.

Donations are being requested in the form of financial donations via Venmo to be used for buying (landscaping/garden products, shrubs, potting soil, bulbs, etc). Last week, mulch that was intended for use on this volunteer day was stolen from the cemetery. 

Donations can be delivered to the Creative Services Suite, CTW 123M, or sent via Venmo to @CarolineNArthur in the Venmo app.

“We talk about the importance of diversity here at UK,” Noehren said. “This is an opportunity to walk to walk and come out and help assist communities outside of the walls of the college.”

Last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, no one was able to help the cemetery. Noehren said it made sense to get the PT students involved, as they like to engage in service opportunities.

“It’s wonderful for them see how what they do matters to the community,” he said. “Here, you can see your effort. You can make an impact.”

Some could argue the cemetery has never needed more help. Recently, LEX18 produced a story criticizing the upkeep of the cemetery. But Noehren said the piece did not reflect the hard work that the volunteers who run Cove Haven do to maintain the property.

“They don’t have a lot of resources,” he said. “That’s why we need to help. By helping those who have passed on we are literally helping people who cannot help us or themselves; it’s true service. By tending to the graves and helping to beautify the cemetery, we can help give the people buried here some respect.”

Yvonne Giles, fondly known as the “cemetery lady” to many, knows the importance of keeping the site clean.

One of the city’s leaders in the effort to preserve African American history in Lexington, and a Lexington native, Giles became the first black woman elected to the La Grange City Council in 1986 and was then reelected in 1987. After her time serving on City Council, Giles’ career evolved into uncovering and telling the stories of Kentucky African Americans. 

In 2009, she began a two-year project with Cove Haven Cemetery where she surveyed all the headstones. In 2018, the long-term manager of Cove Haven passed away and Giles was asked to take over. She originally signed on to be responsible for burials and monument locations, but her job now extends to far more.

“African-American cemeteries are where you will find our history; it has not been researched or told,” she said. “We have uncovered a wealth of information and are constantly sharing it with the Lexington community. These former enslaved people became leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners, property owners and voters. That history is there; it just needs a spotlight to shine.”

Now, they must ensure the property’s visual appeal to keep attracting visitors.

“If the cemetery is not inviting to people, then it will be much more difficult to share the incredible history of these African Americans,” Giles said. “We need to keep the landscape clean and show we care about their loved ones buried there.”

To volunteer, sign up here

Questions? Contact Brian Noehren at b.noehren@uky.edu

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