On Saturday, Nov. 12, four West Chester University student organizations answered a last minute call for help.
The Student Veterans Group (SVG), the Men’s Rugby Club and fraternities FIJI and Sigma Phi Epsilon organized volunteers to help clean a local historic church and cemetery outside Malvern, which is in East Whiteland Township.
The area around southeastern Pennsylvania, and Chester County in particular, is deep in history. Residents are constantly finding that they’ve been living next to an important landmark, battlefield or, in this case, an overgrown cemetery containing Civil War veterans and former slaves.
Ebenezer Church outside Malvern was an important stop along the Underground Railroad and housed an active congregation of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) worshipers until the early-mid 1900s.
Local Boy Scout Troop 78 took on the initial heavy lifting for the project and paved the way for other groups to join the fight. They even had to contact the AME Church in Philadelphia to gain permission to enter the property. The church apparently had no record of the land and cemetery, which explains how it fell into disrepair.
The SVG established contact on Tuesday, Nov. 8 with local resident Kathy Duffy, whose son, Luke Phayre, is a member of Troop 78 and has already organized several cleaning projects to reclaim the crumbling ruin from the weeds and heavy brush.
They planned on having an unveiling ceremony for the public on Saturday, Nov. 19 and still had a lot of work to do. That’s where the SVG came in. In an effort to build a commitment to continued service, they’ve been actively looking for just this type of community project. Only problem was, they already had a care package drive going on that Saturday and needed to wait and see what backup they could gather in less than a week.
They didn’t have to wait long.
In what is only a testament to the WCU student body’s values and commitment to public service, over 50 students from the SVG, FIJI, Sigma Phi Epsilon and student athletes from the Men’s Rugby Club answered the call.
The coalition went to work quickly, and thankfully there were enough tools to go around. The task force cleaned the gravesites for nearly four hours, with their work including raking, trimming and seeding the plot with new grass.
They hope the new grass will catch and that next spring, residents will look and see a healthy green lawn around the headstones rather than a jungle of brush.
Passersby slowed down and shouted support at the workers, a couple stopping to ask which organizations they represented. The answer was the Golden Rams.
All of the organizations hope to continue work in this area of community service and strengthen bonds with other university and community organizations.
There is a large opportunity for continued work in cleaning and preserving neglected cemeteries and fighting to preserve historical landmarks.
If you or your organization would like to be a part of this type of community work, please contact SVG member Darrell Mindler at DM880016@wcupa.edu.
Kelby Hershey is a former student who majored in history. He can be reached at KH835979@wcupa.edu.