Cemetery care - with an education in History and Science, old headstones an "educational treasure"
Student members of Kiwanis Key Clubs from three high schools in Brooklyn - Fort Hamilton, James Madison and New Utrecht - stand in a cemetery dating back to 1654 where they cut grass, raked leaves and in other ways prepared the landmark property for the winter ahead. With their club motto "Caring - Our Way of Life," about 30 students put their words into action assisting the New Utrecht Reformed Church in Bensonhurst and the Friends of Historic New Utrecht to maintain the site, at the corner of 16th Ave. and 85th St.
Friends president Robert Buonvino says before the students began work they were given a "little history lesson" about the founders of New Utrecht, many of whom are buried in the cemetery along with soldiers of the Civil War and the American Revolution. They also got into science, Mr. Buonvino said, as when the students saw first-hand how headstones of differing composition erode in different ways, as from acid rain.
One of the objectives of the historical organization, he said, is to raise a seven-ton obelisk, over 14 feet long, knocked down during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. A memorial to two doctors who gave their lives treating patients during the yellow fever epidemic in 1857, it damaged nearby headstones as it shook the ground when it was toppled by a large tree.
"The Key Clubs are essential to our maintaining the grounds," Mr. Buonvino said, "and the students learn a lot about history and science as we examine the headstones that tell many stories of their own. For all us today, especially teachers, they are an 'educational treasure'."
The cemetery is owned by the New Utrecht Reformed Church, which dates from 1677. Its current building, on 18th Ave. and 84th Street, is undergoing a $2 million restoration and repair. Persons interested in finding out more about the earliest days of Brooklyn, before it got its name, are invited to call (718) 256-7173 and to log onto www.historicnewutrecht.org and www.newutrechtchurch.org.