Local organization donates funds for cemetery restoration

Joshua Baethge,
The Van Alstyne Leader
Van Alstyne Historical Society President Dusty Williams poses for a photo after accepting a $1,000 check recently from the Mantua Masonic Lodge. The funds will  be used to help restore sections of the Van Alstyne Cemetery that have fallen into disrepair. Willliams is doing much of the work himself.

On Aug. 13, the Mantua Masonic Lodge presented Van Alstyne Historical Society President Dusty Williams $1,000 for his work restoring the old section of the Van Alstyne Cemetery.

Half of the money came directly from the local lodge, with the Texas Masonic Charities Foundation matching that amount.

“It will help us get some of the bigger jobs done that we can’t do ourselves,” Williams said.

While the cemetery has not been vandalized, the effects of time have left many of the markers there in various states of disrepair.

Some of the graves date back to the 1840s. The cemetery includes the final resting place of the Collin McKinney family, for which Collin County and the city of McKinney are named.

Mantua Lodge member Zach Herring does grounds work at the cemetery. After observing Williams working hard, he went over to see what he was up to.

“He’s a fine young man,” Herring said. “He’s been working over there for nothing, really. He just does it whenever he gets a chance. We decided to donate to him because he’s going to need help with those bigger markers.”

The lodge contributes to a variety of philanthropic efforts in the area. That includes funding up to six scholarships each year for students in Howe and Van Alstyne.

Williams has been passionate about local history for most of his life. His family goes back nine generations in Grayson County.

When he was 14, he became interested in genealogy. A few years later, while still in high school, he founded an organization that searched for abandoned cemeteries across Texoma and worked with local Boy Scouts to get them cleaned up.

As an adult, Williams has written two books about local history and is vice president of the county’s historical commission. He also teaches Texas history and reading at Howe Middle School as well as teaching part time at Grayson College.

For the past two years, he’s taken it upon himself to slowly restore much of the Van Alstyne Cemetery.

Since those buried in the older part of the cemetery no longer have living relatives to care for their graves, many of the markers have fallen over, sunken into the ground or become severely weathered.

In order to help with Williams’ efforts, the Van Alstyne Historical Association started a program where people could “adopt” a grave to fund its repair.

The lodge’s donation, as well as a recent $1,000 donation from the cemetery foundation, have helped tremendously. However, the cemetery could still use more assistance from the community.

Once the oldest section of the cemetery is completed, Williams plans to move on to the next oldest section and begin repairs.

The aged and damaged headstone of William L. McKinney is shown at the Van Alstyne Cemetery. Older sections of the cemetery are undergoing repairs that are being performed by Van Alstyne Historical Society President Dusty Williams.