DIBOLL, TX (KTRE) - With only charred remains of their former sanctuary in its background, the annual Ryan Chapel Cemetery Homecoming forged onward Sunday with a renewed spirit of determination.
"The first Sunday in June, which is the Chapel Homecoming Day, where we raise money for the cemetery for perpetual care,” shared Pastor Charles Weeks as he also sang along to the Hickory Ridge Bluegrass gospel band performing “I'll Fly Away” just yards from the entrance to the Ryan Chapel Cemetery."
The Methodist church did hold its regular Sunday service, and then the congregation enjoyed a midday meal on the grounds, where the Ryan Chapel Cemetery Association accepted donations for the cemetery's upkeep and welcomed information on some mysteries buried in the graveyard.
"We have over 300 unmarked graves. And we would love to know who they are,” shared Marty Harris, secretary or the association and also plot coordinator.
Several years ago it was impossible for the association and church to know how many people had actually been laid to rest in their church's burial grounds, until…
"Kenneth Ryan, his wife and his brother Raymond came in here and surveyed the cemetery, took pictures of every marker that was there at the time, created a data base with all of the information in it,” said Harris. “We have over 3,000 graves out there in Ryan Chapel Cemetery.”
Harris stated that every unknown grave was marked two ways: first a metal rod was inserted into the grave as market, so it could be located with a metal detector. Then, they also placed small whitish bricks with the letters “U N K” on it—meaning unknown—at plots of uncertainty.
Not only did the church have a lot of first time visitors attend the homecoming, but an former church member—Delano Smith—who grew up in Groveton, but now lives in Plantersville, which is northwest of Conroe, helped her identify an unknown marker.
“[He] told me that a baby was buried right next to his grandmother. And we did not have that, we just showed "unmarked." So, we identified a child today. So that was good," Harris said excitedly.
So, just like the congregation is moving forward from the fire, the cemetery association is praying more help is on the way in naming all graves marked unknown.
If you are a former church members or descendants or distant relative of someone buried in the cemetery and have information that could help name some of the 300+ unknowns, call (936) 639-5221.