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Woodland Cemetery volunteer honored for ongoing service

Woodland Cemetery is the final resting place for Arthur Ashe, Reverend John Jasper, and thousands more. Maintaining it has been difficult, but it’s starting to
Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 3:58 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Woodland Cemetery is the final resting place for Arthur Ashe, Reverend John Jasper, and thousands more. Maintaining it has been difficult, but it’s starting to look a lot better under new leadership, and much of that work is being done for free, thanks to some amazing volunteers.

For years, the headstones at Woodland Cemetery were lost in the weeds and overgrown grass.

It was unkempt, the site of illegal dumping, and in desperate need of financial support to adequately honor the final resting place of roughly 30,000 people.

“The only thing was maintained and taking care of was here, Arthur Ashe area, everything else. You couldn’t even see half the headstones,” Executive Director of the Woodland Restoration Foundation Marvin Harris said.

In August 2020, Harris focused his efforts on restoring the deceased’s dignity.

“We got help from Henrico County, Mrs. Jeanne Ashe, and myself. We put this project together, we purchased it, and from that point, we went to work,” said Harris.

In a year and a half, Harris says roughly 900 volunteers chipped in to help with the restoration.

“You had to physically walk in to identify where the headstones are before you can start cutting. It was a daunting task,” said Harris.

With the help of the volunteers, they’ve been able to reclaim a lot of the acreage and identified several headstones, but it wasn’t easy.

Harris says one of the most valuable volunteers is the man behind the chainsaw, George Nixon.

“I do two mornings a week, and mostly chainsawing and pulling brush and hauling logs,” says Nixon.

The 79-year-old retired therapist says he was moved by an article outlining the struggles at the cemetery.

“I went, you know, it’s time to give this community back, so much of what we’ve taken from them. So my commitment was to give back to folks who had that we had shortchanged in so many ways, and they deserve better, and I could do some work out here. So, I decided to volunteer,” says Nixon.

Nixon is no stranger to volunteering. He’s invested countless hours of sweat equity helping out historically Black cemeteries - Woodland, Evergreen, and Eastend.

“Cutting trees up is pretty expensive. Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars that I’ve saved Evergreen, East and Woodland,” Nixon said.

Nixon says he’s really impressed by the leadership of Harris since he took over.

“It’s phenomenal. Marvin is just a beast around getting the right people out here to do the right stuff with the right plan,” says Nixon.

Harris is even more impressed with Nixon’s willingness to give of himself.

It’s why he reached out to NBC12 to reward him with our “Acts of Kindness,” giving him $300 in cash and a $50 gift card to “Mexico Restaurant.”

Woodland Cemetery still needs a lot of work, but Harris has big plans.

The roads going through the cemetery need to be repaired, and an educational center by the chapel is on his wish list. He would also like to create an endowment to fund the cemetery for years to come.

“We do have some hurdles, but we’re going to get this thing corrected,” Harris said.

Nixon turns 80 years old this summer, and he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be able to volunteer, but he loves the way it makes him feel.

“I do it because I love doing it. It’s my happy place. It really is,” Nixon said.

We asked him what he planned to do with the money, and Nixon didn’t hesitate.

“I’m going to give it back to Woodland. I don’t need it. Woodland needs it. So I’ll give it back to them.”

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