It’s immediately obvious that Kevin Wells loves his job and that he takes his responsibility seriously.
On the job for about a year, Wells is the manager of the Maysville-Mason County Cemetery. He came to his position after having worked first as a police dispatcher and later in finance, a job that was monetarily rewarding but extremely stressful, he said. He left the stress behind when he decided to start his own lawn mowing and landscaping business, only to discover a different kind of stress in self employment — hit-or-miss pay checks.
When he was approached by someone who told him the city was hiring, Wells decided to give it a try and was hired for the cemetery position. Now he is responsible for 35 acres off Forest Avenue containing 17,000 gravesites and 15,000 grave markers.
The Maysville Cemetery, now the Maysville-Mason County Cemetery was established in 1848 but the first documented burial was in February, 1826, Wells said, although it may contain graves that have not been recorded from the late 1700s. The grounds are steeped in history, with graves such as that of Bull Nelson and a monument to Union soldiers who died in the Civil War.
The grounds are also home to a variety of trees from weeping cherry and paper bark maple to ginkgo and red buds and those trees were the first target of Wells when he took over. He said every tree in the cemetery was badly in need of trimming. He said the goal was to have the trees, which were so overgrown they impeded mowing, trimmed to allow a six-foot tall person — Wells’ height — to walk comfortably under the limbs. He also asked for upgrades in equipment and is thankful the mayor and city manager provided the cemetery with those resources.
Wells supervises a full time staff of two along with former manager Al Faris, who has been a valuable source of information, who works part time, he said. In the spring and summer two full time temporary employees are added to keep the lawn and gravesites mowed and manicured, a nearly continuous job.
It was with Faris’ help that Wells was able to locate marked veteran graves and add a flag to each one. That meant walking up and down each row of graves to find the markers, he explained. Others which were not marked were identified by family members, he said. Flags for the project were provided by the Simon Kenton VFW, Maysville Public Works and Faris.
Mowing the entire cemetery takes four mowers running for four days, dependant on weather and funeral ceremonies during which all mowing halts out of respect, Wells said. Trimming around graves and curbs takes two weeks to make the round of the entire cemetery when it is time to start at the beginning again, he said.
During a typical spring and summer such as 2018, the grounds keepers will use 1,344 gallons of diesel fuel and 337 gallons of gasoline, along with another 73 gallons of gas for the trimmers, Wells said. While the typical home owner spends about 70 hours annually mowing, at the cemetery each mower averages 325-435 hours a year. All equipment is maintained and serviced in-house, he said.
Maintaining the grounds is a year-round effort that includes clearing and mulching leaves in the fall and even winter, Wells said.
But keeping the grounds maintained is only part of the job, Wells said. He is in charge of opening and closing graves, filing paperwork with the state following each burial and taking care of the picturesque chapel on the grounds. The chapel, he said, was moved to the cemetery from another location in 1934 and reassembled at its present location.
Perhaps his biggest accomplishment so far is in computerizing records, a big step up for identifying lots and plots from the former method of locating them on a giant wall-sized map concealed behind faux cabinet doors in his office. Wells hopes to also add a GPS program that would direct anyone searching for a specific grave to its location. The computer program could also serve as a resources for people conducting genealogy research.
Wells’ intention is to create an oasis at the cemetery where families who have buried loved ones can find peace. He also wants visitors to enjoy the beauty of the plants and trees, the tranquility of the chapel and even the historic markers and graves at the cemetery.
In the end, it is all about respect — for the dead, for families and for the process of saying goodbye, Wells said.
When he accepted the job he wasn’t sure how he would handle it on a personal level. But Wells has found that in giving grieving families the peace of mind they deserve he also finds that peace.
“It gives me peace of mind to know I was the person to fulfill their final wish,” he said. “I want them to have faith and trust in me…I know its done right. To me it is respect for everyone.”
“I want people to be proud to say they have loved ones buried here.”