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Chapel Portico Formerly Flower Filled

By Staff | May 19, 2009

A current scene at the Pleasant Hill Cemetery Chapel near Hughesville is miniscule compared to bygone days when Memorial Day flowers were placed beneath the portico with sales supervised by the sexton's wife, Eldora Robbins McConnell. Those times were recalled recently by grandchildren Evelyn McConnell Derrick of Muncy (seated), William "Bill" Foresman (left) and David McConnell, both of Hughesville.

Many years have come and gone since a truck from the former Bryfogle greenhouses delivered a load of flowers placed beneath the chapel portico at Pleasant Hill Cemetery. It was one of the Muncy entrepreneur’s on stop drop outlets.

By supervising flower sales at the site, Eldora Robbins, wife of cemetery overseer Chauncey McConnell emereged more a public figure than as recorder of lot deeds and burial information. Not only did Eldora seize Memorial Day as an opportunity to earn a few cents on each sale, but the effort served as a convenience to the public.

It had been 1917 when the couple left their Wolf Township farm becoming caretakers at the cemetery overlooking Hughesville. Both are long gone, interred in the cemetery’s extension to their residence, Chauncey in 1964 and Eldora in 1970.

Recently, three of their six grandchildren shared events spanning 64 years with three generations of family as cemetery overseers. They were Evelyn McConnell Derrick, Muncy; David McConnell and William “Bill” Forseman, both of Hughesville. Remaining grandchildren include James Forseman, Hughesville; Mary Frances McConnell Curtis, Saratoga Springs, NY and Thomas McConnell, deceased.

As the threesome gathered, Evelyn noted there is now a pump located off the front corner of the chapel. “Prior to that addition, folks came to the backdoor of the house asking for water from the well. It was sometimes worrisome to the amounts used,” she said.

During her youth, Evelyn carried water from the backyard next door, filling tubs to soak flowers awaiting to be sold. “We dipped plants in water-filled tubs taking them out when the air bubbles stopped,” she said.

In addition to geraniums sold at 45 cents as the least amount remembered, there were sweet alyssum, petunias and vinca vines. “Those days were similar to this, damp and chilly,” Evelyn said as she closed her jacket while seated on one of the same benches used to display plants during those bygone days. In addition to customers selecting and planting flowers, they’d be as many as 30 standing orders for plantings hired to be done.

Throughout the summer months, Eldora’s personal gardens bloomed, even her porch was laden with containers holding foliage plants.

Land around the buildings not designated part of the cemetery met a mini farm was possible for the agriculturists at heart. According to Bill, a large garden was kept behind the chapel, further away a small barn sheltered a Pontiac with a stall for a bovine named Daisy. Evelyn chimed in to say, “Every cow they ever had was named Daisy, one even made the high school year book when photographed with a group on a field trip by Ken Mincemoyer’s class.”

Bill added that Daisy’s milk was carried to the kitchen where their grandma churned the rich Guernsey liquid into golden pats of butter. Near Lime Bluff Road, the most distant enclosure, piglets were confined as they fattened for butchering.

Returning to conversations regarding the cemetery, Bill recalled an improvement attributed to cemetery board member Don Price Sr. In his welding shop, Price had constructed a cart enabeling the operator to ride behind a Gravely mower. “At first grandpa scoffed at the idea bust soon directed workers to use other mowers announcing he’d take the one with the seat,” Bill said. Eventually Louis Robbins equipped remaining mowers with seats.

Bill’s face grimaced as he told of grandma’s sugerless ice tea served employees during breaks. Some workers remembered were Dale Cahn; retirees “Dutch” Gray, Delbert Milheim and Robert Webster Sr; while John Harriman, Shawn McCoy and Dan Smith had been school-age summer workers.

Events prominent in David McConnell’s memory included damages by Hurricane Frances and enlargement of burial grounds.

“The 1953 hurricane downed most trees in the triangle space between the house and cemetery entrance. They laid there a year or two until on one of our Sunday afternoon rides, we stopped at Swisher’s Store where grandpa filled the car trunk with dynamite,” David said. All grandchildren recalled being confined to the house when detonations were set to uproot the stumps. Though all six grandchildren resided on East Water Street, they spent endless hours at the cemetery, sometimes overnight with their grandparents.

During 1958 and for two years thereafter, two sections were added to the cemetery. A stone rake pulled by an Allis Chalmar tractor operated by Clarence Shaner is thought to have been provided by either the borough or Wolf Township.

“Workers transformed fields by leveling and removing stones, measuring plots, laying driveways and seeding grass, David said. At about age 12, David mowed, erected funeral tents and filled graves hand dug until nearly 1960.

From1961 until 1981, Daniel McConnell replaced his father who’d replaced his father-in-law ( ? ) Robbins. Memorial Day flower sales were continued by the new sexton’s wife, Maxine Rupert McConnell.

“I love it up here,” said Evelyn as she admired the panoramic view. Before leaving, she and Bill visited the shared plot of their grandparents and Evenly’s parents. As Evelyn drove off toward Muncy, Bill walked to his home in the Buck development bordering the cemetery.

No longer do flowers fill the chapel portico but are beginning to appear at gravesites in anticipation of Memorial Day 2009.