Restoration of abandoned Donegal Township cemetery is planned
It is believed that between 150 and 200 people are buried in Ritter Cemetery, an abandoned, 19th-century graveyard located off Felgar Road in Donegal Township.
Kevin Krepps, 17, of Hecla recently said he hopes to take on the restoration of the cemetery.
Krepps — a senior at Mt. Pleasant Area Junior-Senior High School — aims to complete the project to fulfill a final requirement necessary to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable within the Boy Scouts of America program.
“The cemetery has been severely neglected for many years,” Krepps said. “I'd like to restore it to what it once looked like.”
Krepps' plans include planting grass and flower beds, restoring and righting fallen tombstones, adding signs and installing a flag pole with solar paneled lights to honor war veterans at the cemetery, portions of which exist in both Donegal and Cook townships.
Krepps said he decided to pursue the project due to a personal interest in the cemetery.
When his great grandfather was still alive, he would visit the graves of his three sisters who were buried there, Krepps said.
Krepps remembers his great grandfather cleaning up the area to the best of his ability when he would visit.
“He always wanted to take care of it,” Krepps said.
As a tribute to his great-grandfather, Krepps' idea to restore the cemetery as his service project was conceived.
Little did Krepps know the trouble he would encounter when it came to determining who owned the cemetery.
“No one wanted to take responsibility for it,” Krepps said. “No one claimed the land.”
According to local legend, the cemetery was established in the 1800s by landowner Henry Ritter as a place to bury his young children who died of diphtheria, an upper respiratory illness that has been largely eradicated in the U.S. with vaccination.
It then became a burial ground for residents of surrounding townships, according to the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project.
Krepps went through many channels and talked to many people, including state Rep. Mike Reese, R.-Mt. Pleasant Township, before he was referred to the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society.
Upon hearing Krepps' proposal for the cemetery, the society's committee members recently voted to become the beneficiary for the funding of Krepps' project.
“It's important for us to show young people that we're behind them,” said committee member Eileen Rose.
The restoration of the cemetery will benefit the community by supporting both local residents and those from out of the area who have loved ones buried there, Rose said.
While Krepps said he is willing to work hard to complete the project, he requires donations and volunteers.
Krepps has already received pledges of support from his family, along with his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 472 in Norvelt and members of the Donegal American Legion, but community volunteers are still needed to help with the physical work.
Supplies in the form of mulch, flowers, paint, lumber and grass seed are also needed.
After hearing Krepps' proposal, society member Bud Shepler of Ligonier, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, volunteered to donate a flag and flag pole for the Ritter Cemetery restoration.
“I'm excited that Kevin has chosen to work on Ritter Cemetery,” said Donna Knupp of Pittsburgh, who is a genealogy enthusiast. “It's my favorite cemetery, not only because seven of my lineal ancestors are buried there, but because it represents the mountain life of Westmoreland County.
“By cleaning up the cemetery, Kevin is carrying on a tradition of service,” she said.
Krepps said he is eager to begin this final step in his journey of becoming an Eagle Scout.
“Earning Eagle is an honor that is bestowed upon you only after completing many years of hard work and determination,” he said.
Krepps thanked his mother, Jennifer Krepps, and his Scoutmaster, James Enlow, for their support in his years of scouting.
“I appreciate their helping me get this far and pushing me to achieve my Eagle,” he said.
Krepps was allotted one week to complete the project and hopes to start when the weather breaks. He is awaiting council approval from the Boy Scouts of America to begin the project.
Anyone who wishes to donate or volunteer to help restore this historic site is encouraged to contact Krepps at 724-424-4324.
“Ritter Cemetery will be brought back from wilderness to a place of respect,” Rose said.
Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer.