“When I heard the stories and fellowshipped with the families, my heart just poured out for them. That’s what makes all the work worthwhile … all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into it just goes away because of the positive impact it has on people.”
Green Lawn Fertilizing
GreenCare for Troops Volunteer
Lindenwold, New Jersey
Terry Williams, branch sales manager for Green Lawn Fertilizing’s Lindenwold, New Jersey office and GreenCare for Troops volunteer knew it was a duty he had to fulfill.
“One of the core values of the military is, ‘no man left behind,’ and to me it doesn’t matter if the person is active or if they’ve come and gone before us,” says Williams.
It was one of the drivers behind his leadership and determination to take on and complete the renovation of Green Lawn Cemetery in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania.
A North Carolina native steeped in the discipline and respect of the church, Terry Williams joined the Navy at 17 and retired after a successful military experience. His private sector journey eventually led him to the lawn care industry, where he has worked for the past 14 years. He joined Green Lawn Fertilizing in 2016, drawn to the company’s encouragement of philanthropy and giving to the community that hearkened back to his formative years.
In the fall of 2023, Williams got his opportunity to give back in a way he never anticipated. Local officials were searching for volunteers to work on an effort to rehabilitate Green Lawn Cemetery, an 8-acre burial ground established in 1907 to serve as the final resting place for individuals of African American descent. It is cultural and historic significance is vast, demonstrating that the rules of racial segregation extended from life until death – black people were not permitted to be buried in the same place as white people.
From its founding to its closure in the 1980s, Green Lawn accommodated more than 2000 burials, including some 250 veterans. Those who served in the two world wars and Vietnam can be found here, as well as four Buffalo Soldiers who served in the 19th century.
The cemetery grounds were privately owned and cared for from its establishment until the passing of the last groundskeeper in 1985, when it was left to the families to care for the gravesites. Some efforts to organize regular maintenance could never be fully mustered, so Green Lawn was left to nature’s ravages for most of four decades.
“Tom Knopsnyder, one of my supervisors, had come across this project but the location of the cemetery was closer to my branch,” recalls Williams. “So, he asked if I could spearhead it.” The project started inauspiciously – on the first day volunteers were asked to show up, only six people came. Williams was astounded at the amount of work that would be required to make the cemetery navigable for mourners once again.
“There was no way that the folks that showed up with the limited supplies that were donated could have taken this project to completion. We had to find more labor and machinery to try to get this off the ground,” says Williams.
With a hard deadline of November 11 – a Veteran’s Day Celebration at the Cemetery – looming on the horizon, Terry Williams got to work.
“One of our volunteers, a Navy veteran, contact the naval yard and they loaned us a dozen young sailors to work on the project, essentially tripling our manpower,” he says.
Williams was able to gain access to heavier equipment for cutting massive areas of brush, resetting toppled gravestones, regrading land, and removing shrubs and trees that had grown massive throughout the grounds from 40 years of neglect.
It was incredibly difficult work, but Terry Williams found motivation from individuals he would meet while working – descendants of those buried at Green Lawn. One of them, an 80-year-old woman wielding a weed trimmer, was particularly inspiring.
“She told me about her twin brother who was buried out in the center of the cemetery, about his service and how he was celebrated, but also marginalized because of the color of his skin. She wanted to be able to sit with him and meditate, and she asked me if I would be able to do that for her – to clear a path to his grave. She was thinking that she would never get to see the gravesite again and had given up hope. I thought about her story through the entire project.”
As the days went by and progress was made, more volunteers began showing up. On the morning of the Veteran’s Day Celebration, more than 30 volunteers were on hand to give the grounds a final polish before the ceremony began. The Navy provided the honor guard for the rededication, and local, state, and federal officials joined relatives of the deceased for a beautiful day of honor for those not forgotten.
For Williams, the stories shared by relatives who got involved in the project and attended the ceremony have stayed with him and served as an inspiration.
“When I heard the stories and fellowshipped with the families, my heart just poured out for them,” says Williams. “That’s what makes all the work worthwhile. All the blood, sweat, and tears you put into it just goes away because of the positive impact it has on people.”
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The Title Sponsor of the GreenCare for Troops program Title Sponsor is Nufarm. SnowCare for Troops program in BOSS Snowplow. Platinum Partners include Toro, SiteOne Landscape Supply, AMGUARD Environmental Sciences and Heritage Landscape Supply. The Silver Partner is Arborjet/Ecologel.
Affiliate Partners include the Connecticut Grounds Keepers Association and the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.
GreenCare for Troops is endorsed by the National Association of Landscape Professionals