MOUNT VERNON — Moss and lichen filled in the engraved letters of a name on the dark, rough, weathered granite headstone.  

Bob Grenier, sexton for Mount Vernon, sprayed water and then a chemical cleaner onto the stone. The matter on stone darkened, like after rain. 

Gently, he scraped, then brushed the text of the granite, and in minutes, the name on the stone was revealed.

Hannah Thing. She died in 1818 at the age of 19.

Around Stevens Cemetery, other headstones were broken. Footstones were missing. The earth partially buried stones.

But there were also stones that were in part bright, almost white, after being grounded for years — possibly decades. They stood upright, affirmed by mortar. 

Bob Grenier repaired these stones, volunteering his time. As the town’s sexton, Grenier has seen stones in the cemeteries he cares for in disrepair.

“Every year, I would see another stone down,” Grenier said. “It did not seem right.” 

Mount Vernon Sexton Bob Grenier talks about his grave stone repair work during an interview Sept. 10 at Stevens Cemetery in Mount Vernon. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Grenier approached town officials and offered to repair the stones if the town purchased the equipment. 

“The town just went for it,” he said.

The town approved spending $5,000 on the equipment and tools to repair the stones the first year, he said. Since then, he has requested around $1,500, which purchases the mortar, cleaner and epoxy and other items. 

“Bob Grenier has been one of the most impactful residents of Mount Vernon for decades,” said Paul Crockett, chairman of the Mount Vernon Select Board. 

“(Grenier) took the initiative on behalf of the town,” said Crockett, “to attend a class, budget and buy material and begin the process to repair headstones.”

Grenier took courses with the Old Maine Cemetery Association, learning how to clean and repair ancient graves. The term “ancient” is given to graves that age from around the mid-1800s. Stevens had stones from the early 1800s.

Grenier averages repairing about one grave per day, working in stages — digging out the stones, clean and prepping them, and mortaring. 

“It feels good to accomplish,” he said.

He locates broken pieces of stone, digs them out of the ground. Before attaching them to the original owner, he must clean the stones, which takes about an hour to do completely. 

He uses the chemical cleaner D2, which is approved by the cemetery association and veterans organizations, he said, because it is gentle. He does not need to use gloves, and it will not harm the stones or ground.

Next Grenier uses epoxy to attach the pieces, and then he mortars the stones. He covers those stones with plastic so that the mortar can fully cure, which takes around 30 days. 

In some cases, the stones have completely fallen off their bases. As iron rods rust, they expand, Grenier explained, popping their joints, causing the stone to fall off its base. He replaces the iron rods with stainless steel. 

One grave’s base needed more. 

It was not the first fall it had taken. Decades or a half-century before, Grenier guessed, it was propped back up onto a boulder-like block of rock and cement. The “boulder” eventually shifted and the stone fell again. 

Using D2 cleaner, Sexton Bob Grenier was able to tell the graver marker he was cleaning was in honor of Hannah Thing on Sept. 10 at Stevens Cemetery in Mount Vernon. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Gravestones are heavy business. To move them, he utilizes a tripod crane. That got the “boulder” out of the ground, but now it rests beside the grave, nearly the size of Grenier himself.

“Hopefully someone with a tractor will offer to come get it for me,” he said, with a chuckle. 

Grenier works around four or five hours a day, three or four days a week, and the season is not much longer than summer because the mortar and epoxy require certain weather. He said that last summer he got more done because this year there have been more rainy days.

It is his second summer repairing stones, and so far he has repaired around 60 in Stevens Cemetery, and he expects to repair about 10 to 15 more. The cemetery has around 300 known graves; he suspects there may be some that are unmarked.

Last year he repaired around 80 stones in three cemeteries, the Marson Cemetery on Fogg Road, Potash Cemetery on Dunns Corner Road, and the John Robinson cemetery on North Road.

He is working first at cemeteries that are most visible. Next summer, he will work at Lakeside Cemetery on Pond Road by Echo Lake. The town has 25 cemeteries.

“The town awarded him the Spirit of America volunteer award in 2017,” said Trish Jackson, a member of the Select Board. “He’s a remarkable fellow.”

For those whose family members have final resting places are in these cemeteries, the repairs are a gift. 

Grenier received a hand carved — on a piece of wood, because he did not have paper, Grenier said — letter of thanks from one visitor to the cemetery he was working in last year. 

“The note said, ‘my great-great—’ he listed so many greats, ‘—grandfather is buried here,’” said Grenier. “‘You fixed his headstone!’” 

Grenier became the sexton for the town 25 years ago after spending the previous decade putting flags on the headstones of veterans who fought in wars as far back as the Revolutionary War. 

Not a veteran himself, it was his way of acknowledging the service these people provided. One veteran in Stevens Cemetery was Lorenzo Weston, a member of the 4th Maine Battery in the Civil War. At the age of 23, Weston died May 20, 1865 — days after the war ended. 

Was Weston a casualty?

As Grenier repairs the stones, he finds himself wondering about the lives of the people they mark. Many men had multiple wives — did their wives die during childbirth? Some died at similar dates — was there an influenza epidemic?

Part of his efforts as sexton was to document each grave. A database of those graves is now kept at the library and the town office.

He says he has seen very little ghostly business. 

“A ghost crew from Portland sought permission to visit a cemetery,” he said. It was Halloween, and it was a long walk through the woods to reach the cemetery. 

“I never heard if they discovered anything.”

Previously, Grenier was an electrical engineer. “I built nukes,” he said, “but I saw the writing on the wall and got out.” 

Having grown up in Waterville, he returned to his home state and purchased Mount Vernon Country Store in 1983. Five years later, he built Flying Pond Variety. Six years ago, he sold both stores. 

In addition to serving as cemetery sexton for the town, he has also been a selectman and has served on other boards.

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