Schenectady County

McEvoys named city Patroons for Vale Cemetery volunteer work

When the Vale Cemetery caretaker’s house was at risk of being flattened for a parking lot in 2004, B

When the Vale Cemetery caretaker’s house was at risk of being flattened for a parking lot in 2004, Bernard and Barbara McEvoy stepped in to help preserve the historic structure.

That began a seven-year love affair with the cemetery, which culminated with the couple being honored Sunday with the Schenectady Patroon award — the city’s highest honor — for their work.

The McEvoys have helped lead volunteer efforts to save the caretaker’s house, restore the State Street entrance, landscape the grounds, repair gravestones and install security cameras that helped curb vandalism and graffiti problems.

Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy said the McEvoys helped reverse the financial and physical decline the cemetery was in during the mid-1990s and both “have been a tremendous asset to this community and facility and tried to restore it to its past glory.”

“Thank you for the time and effort you have put in,” McCarthy said.

Bernard McEvoy was caught off guard by McCarthy’s surprise announcement, which came at the conclusion of guide Paul Tracy’s “Hizzonors” tour, which spotlighted the political leaders buried in the cemetery. Tracy made up an excuse to get McEvoy to come to the cemetery.

“It was a very big surprise,” McEvoy said.

McEvoy said he and his wife, who was not present for the announcement but who he contacted by phone, could not take credit for the work alone.

“A lot of other people did an awful lot of work here putting in physical labor, arranging events,” he said.

He cited the efforts of Katherine Delain, who got the cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Ruth Bergeron, who organized many activities.

Following the effort to save the caretaker’s house, McEvoy was asked to serve on the Vale board. He has been president and is currently vice president.

In 2009, McEvoy received a $129,300 state historical preservation grant to help fix wrought iron fences, add lighting and install security cameras. The grant required a local match. The security cameras have helped deter vandalism, McEvoy said.

“It’s probably got the best video surveillance of any cemetery on the East Coast,” he said.

Cemetery officials also received private donations from a variety of groups including the Wright Family Foundation, the William Gundry Broughton Charitable Private Foundation, the Fenimore Foundation and the Schenectady Foundation, according to McEvoy.

The cemetery just received a $20,000 grant from the State Division of Cemeteries to repair some gravestones that are in danger of toppling.

The work never stops. McEvoy joked that perhaps the list of people who signed up to take Sunday’s tour could be put to work in the cemetery.

About 33,000 people are buried at the cemetery, which dates back to 1857.

McEvoy would also like to attract more burials at the cemetery. “There’s plenty of room. We tell people it’s highly serene and it’s affordable. All of this land — we can bury people here for another 200 years.”

The cemetery is even offering what it calls “green” burials where people can be buried in a wildflower meadow bird sanctuary in a more natural setting.

“It’s a beautiful place. It’s got lots of history. I’ve learned a lot being around here.”

Tracy said the honor was well deserved. He thinks that McEvoy, a 75-year-old retired physician, would be sitting and relaxing somewhere.

“He’s out here every day. You see him on the mower, picking up leaves and stones. He’s a great guy, good storyteller,” Tracy said.

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