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Donor generosity allows man’s grave to have a marker

Donor generosity allows man’s grave to have a marker

Bill Pearce froze to death anonymously in a derelict building on State Street last January.
Donor generosity allows man’s grave to have a marker
Kelly Ann Bryden of Schenectady rests her head against a fence at Vale Cemetery on Thursday during a ceremony for Bill Pearce, a homeless man who died earlier this year.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Bill Pearce froze to death anonymously in a derelict building on State Street last January.

The 56-year-old homeless man was buried on the edge of Vale Cemetery, just a short distance from the row of ornate mausoleums and obelisks marking some of Schenectady’s wealthiest icons for the ages.

Pearce’s memory would likely fade quickly were it not for a small granite stone placed over his plot Thursday.

“His family really didn’t care,” lamented Mark Mahoney, a Scotia resident who befriended Pearce while living on the streets nearly five years ago.

But Pearce’s many friends and acquaintances did remember him. Word of his lonely death sparked donations to purchase the simple marker in his honor.

“Often those folks like Bill are ignored or at worst, vilified,” said Bethesda House Executive Director Margaret Anderton during the late morning service. “But not here.”

Anderton said there were enough donations to purchase markers for two others who died similarly in Schenectady over the past five years. In addition, she said, there was enough money left over for Bethesda House to start a fund so that future graves won’t go unmarked and forgotten.

Pearce was not unique among homeless people in dying alone without families to tend to their funeral needs. The county Department of Social Services will pay the basic funeral cost but won’t cover the price of a grave stone.

A butcher by trade, Pearce moved to Schenectady about a decade ago in search of help for his chronic alcoholism. He drifted in and out of homeless shelters but always maintained his dignity, said Jeff Demers, a Schenectady Street resident who befriended Pearce and attended the service Thursday.

“He was too proud to ask for anything,” he recalled. “He was a good man.”

Pearce’s marker describes him similarly: “He was a good and decent man.”

Also honored was Fred “Scotty” Scott, a 67-year-old city man who died on New Year’s Eve in 2007. Afflicted with severe diabetes, he was in hospice care at the time of his death.

Anderton said Scott, a former human services worker, frequently helped out around Bethesda and was well-known by the staff. He was predeceased by his wife and his only known family member was behind bars at the time of his death. His marker says simply, “A kind and gentle soul.”

The service also honored Lillian Kinard, a 32-year-old homeless woman who died after being trapped in a Moyston Street flophouse that was set ablaze in October 2002. Investigators later determined the fire to be an arson but never solved the crime.

The deeply troubled Kinard had suffered from bipolar disorder and was considered chronically homeless, often landing at Bethesda House for stints. Police spent three days trying to locate her family before she was considered indigent and buried in Vale without a marker.

Kinard’s marker wasn’t engraved in time for the service but will be placed over her plot in the spring.

Anderton estimates at least one homeless person a year dies alone on the streets of Schenectady, without relatives to care for their funeral services.

She said the stories behind each make them tragic.

“One a year is way too often.”

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