Searching for survivors

Janet Bresenham

TEXICO — For nearly six years, Darlene Curry has come often to the Texico Cemetery on the outskirts of town, finding comfort at the gravesides of her only daughter, Wendi Homer, 25, and her only granddaughter, 4-month-old Allie Homer, who died in a car accident on an icy road between Melrose and Fort Sumner on Feb. 24, 1997.
She is also one of a handful of people doing their own maintenance to make sure the final resting places of their loved ones are well-kept.
On Saturday, Curry and her husband, Ronnie, who now live in Clovis, joined more than a dozen area residents for a community work day at Texico Cemetery, which they hope will become more than an annual event.
“We just come out here and work,” Darlene Curry said. “It’s important to me that this cemetery looks clean and pretty. We don’t just focus on our own families, either. We all help clean up and pick up old flowers, whatever is needed.”
The cemetery, which sits within a peaceful grove of trees in the middle of farmland about a mile south of the railroad tracks, is owned by the city of Texico.
But for years, upkeep on the city cemetery has been sporadic and confined mostly to mowing in the summer and occasional cleanups by families whose loved ones are buried there, said Texico Cemetery Board chairwoman Margie Crooks.
Part of the problem was that for years there was no active cemetery board, said Crooks, whose father, Levi Reid, and two brothers, Bill and Jerry Reid, are buried at the site.
Crooks said she and fellow board member Marcia Leavell approached the Texico City Council and volunteered to spearhead an effort to work on improving the site.
“We want this cemetery to look good,” Crooks said. “When we got ready to bury my father-in-law, R.E. Crooks, we couldn’t even find the plot, it was so bad. It is just not respectful that we don’t take better care of it. It is something they deserve.”
Families are asked to pay $10 per plot in annual fees to help with the maintenance of the cemetery, which now holds about 1,000 gravesites, board members said.
However, some families are unable to pay that much and others cannot be located, Crooks said. To date, there is about $2,200 in the fund, which she said should take care of a lot of the regular mowing, but more money and manpower still are needed for many improvements.
Don Teague is one person who has been doing what he can for years to maintain part of the Texico Cemetery, by coming every Memorial Day since 1961.
“I’ve got a little boy out here,” said Teague. “His name was Gary Don Teague and he was 5 years old when he died in 1961 from cancer of the kidneys. I’ve never missed a Memorial Day.”
So when Teague received a letter letting him know about Saturday’s cleanup day, he got his weed-eater and rake and drove from his home in Bovina to help.
Texico Cemetery Board member Ed Autrey said he, too, had a personal stake in assisting with the cleanup.
“I’ve got brothers buried here, F.E. Autrey, J.C. Autrey and Thurl Autrey, and some of my nieces and nephews,” he said.
Barbara Queener, 17, and her sister Shelby Queener, 12, came to be part of the community work day at the cemetery in part because their father, Brent Queener, serves on the Texico Cemetery Board, but also because they had seen the need.
“It was pretty bad,” said Shelby Queener. “It’s better for it to look nice than to be all rundown.”
Barbara Queener said another benefit was that helping in the cleanup “makes you feel closer to the community.”
Texico Fire Chief Lewis Cooper, whose in-laws, Maurine and Joe Caywood are buried at the city cemetery, said he was proud to see the area getting a much-needed spring cleaning.
“It’s probably been about 10 years since it had a good, thorough cleaning,” Cooper said. “When strangers complain about how bad the cemetery looks, you know it’s time to do something about it.”