CANAJOHARIE — With the January appointment of Larkin Kirby as superintendent of the Canajoharie Falls Cemetery, his family’s nearly 50 year legacy of upkeep and care will continue well into the future.
Larkin’s parents, Al and Barbara, dutifully and proudly maintained the 37-acre Canajoharie Falls Cemetery since Al was appointed superintendent of the grounds in 1973. When Al passed away in 2018, Barbara took on the massive task of maintaining the grounds, along with the adjacent Prospect Hill Cemetery.
In January, Larkin made a substantial career shift that literally brought him back home.
After spending 20 years as a laborer, traveling to various locations across the state for jobs, he was offered the opportunity to succeed his parents as Canajoharie Falls Cemetery superintendent — a job he’s basically been preparing for since birth.
Having grown up in the home on the Canajoharie Falls Cemetery grounds, Larkin was already familiar with his expansive surroundings. “I was on my dad’s lap riding lawnmowers and helping him dig graves,” he said.
“I did everything with my father prior to this,” Larkin continued, noting that he was first officially employed at the Canajoharie Falls Cemetery at age 15, working there for approximately five years.
One of the main reasons that the Canajoharie Falls Cemetery Board of Directors put their faith in Larkin to further the high bar of care set by his parents, he stated, “is because I have a lot of respect for this place.”
“I always have,” he said. “I want it to always look good.”
Along with caring for the grounds — which includes nearly-constant mowing and weed trimming around gravestones — and directing a three-member crew, “the superintendent sells the plots and they dig the graves.”
“They do just about everything,” he pointed out.
Larkin and his crew have newly power washed several of the grounds’ graves, buildings, fences and mausoleums. Recently, Civil War soldier Zachariah Neahr’s stone was cleaned, with Larkin also planting rose bushes around it as an act of honor and respect.
Of the decision to highlight and beautify the plot, Larkin said, “After all these years, we’re finally giving him some recognition.”
He hopes to do similar work at other plots as he continues to learn about the individuals interred at the Canajoharie Falls and Prospect Hill cemeteries.
Barbara noted that a superintendent’s work is never done. “A superintendent puts in many more hours than they are supposed to,” she said, with Larkin noting that his job often continues beyond his established daily hours, as “there are always people stopping by.”
Larkin is constantly meeting with people — from those looking to bury loved ones to contractors — at times that facilitate their schedules, including on nights and weekends.
While the title of the superintendent has always come with extensive responsibility, Barbara said that much has changed since she and Al first began caring for the Canajoharie Falls Cemetery. Back in the early 1970s, “We used hand trimmers” to care for plots, she said.
“It was different then. We didn’t have the equipment we have now.”
At the time, there was only one employee assisting the couple. While Al did most of the “brute work,” according to Barbara, she had a hand in all tasks, from mowing to paperwork. “I did just about everything,” she commented, with Larkin noting that while his father officially carried the superintendent title, he feels Al and Barbara “were both superintendents.”
Barbara’s memory has proven to be a continually handy tool over the years. She explained that when an individual would ask where a specific plot existed, Al “would always say ‘go see my wife.'” She would often have the information they sought.
“I’ve got so many memories here. I’ve talked to so many people,” over the years, she said, noting that many of the faces she’s encountered have remained with her. There are just certain things, Barbara pointed out, that will always stick in her head.
Many of the facts and tidbits retained by his mom, Larkin pointed out, have been incredibly helpful.
While much important work has already been done since Larkin took over as superintendent in January — including the completion of a fencing installation, the creation of a building to house equipment, and blacktopping — he anticipates a long list of tasks.
Some of the tasks that Larkin thought would take years to accomplish are being completed in relatively fast order. He attributed that to his dedicated crew, stating of the Canajoharie Falls Cemetery’s three employees, “The guys have been great. They’re really stepping up and doing a lot!”
Barbara, who the Canajoharie Falls Cemetery Board of Directors is generously allowing to remain in the home on the grounds, said she feels confident in the cemetery’s future.
“I feel much better,” she commented, having the superintendent title passed along to her son, “than to somebody I don’t know.”
Larkin said that his primary goal will be to make sure the cemetery is in tip-top shape at all times.
“We take pride in what we do here,” he said. “Seeing people happy and knowing that the cemetery looks a lot better than most” fuels the work he’s proud to continue as part of the Kirby family’s ongoing, five-decade legacy.