SOMERSET – Joey Hinton didn’t have to look far to find a project that would help him attain the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest honor in Scouting.
But the effects of what he accomplished are far-reaching.
Alerted to vandalism that had left thousands of dollars in damage to headstones in West Somerset Cemetery on Aug. 18, 2011 – including the marker of a Civil War veteran – Joey Hinton raised funds and garnered enough help to restore 37 damaged tombstones this past summer.
Then he and his crew fixed up 13 more headstones that just plain needed a boost.
Having filed all the necessary paperwork after completing his project, the Middleport resident is now awaiting his Board of Review as a final step in becoming an Eagle Scout.
“I’m proud of this,” he said. “I put a lot of work into it to get it done.”
“I cannot show my appreciation or commend Joey enough for the work he did,” said Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert. “Joey stepped up and filled a vital need in restoring the sanctity of the cemetery. He put his heart and soul into this. He truly embraced this project, and the impact on the community has been significant.”
Engert added, “I can’t tell you how many people have stopped to tell me that they were appalled at the vandalism. They saw the devastation there and went back after Joey finished his work and now tell me how good it looks and the positive impact he has had. “In many ways, he reinforced the goodness of our youth.”
Melvin H. Denny, the town’s water and sewer department supervisor, said, “Joey really did more than he had intended, which was good. He collected a lot of donations, including enough to buy five headstones that couldn’t be fixed.”
Denny said that when he surveyed the damage done to the Hosmer Road cemetery that dates back more than 150 years, he called in a company for estimates on repairing or replacing the damaged headstones.
“They figured $15,835 to repair the headstones and replace some foundations, or $44,225 to replace all of the headstones that had been broken,” Denny recalled.
Denny noted that the quotes were from just one company and that the job would have had to go out to bid. But he wanted estimates to report to the Town Board.
“If we had had to fix them, we knew it was going to take awhile,” Denny said.
In the meantime, Joey had read news reports of the vandalism. He was looking for an Eagle Scout project, and this seemed like a natural fit.
Ann Hinton, his mother, noted that the vandalism occurred on Joey’s 17th birthday, saying, “We thought, well, this is meant to be.”
Joey’s fellow Scouts in Troop 26 helped him repair the cemetery damage over the span of five visits in May and June, he said. His father, Gary, his mother and his sister, Aileen, 20, also pitched in.
“I think he did a good job,” Ann Hinton said. “It was surprising how easy it was, once we got in there, to say, ‘Well, we might as well fix this one, too,’ because we were already there and had the capability to do it.”
Ann Hinton added that her son collected donations from many families who had relatives buried in the cemetery but did not necessarily have damage done to their loved ones’ stones.
“The damaged stones were usually the much older stones,” she said. “Some were from the 1800s, and there is no record of those names in this area anymore.”
The cemetery land was deeded to the town by Christopher Dickinson in 1847, according to town records. While it still accepts burials in previously purchased plots, it no longer sells grave sites.
There is regret by all involved in the project that the vandals haven’t been caught. “They had pushed over tombstones, and some were broken in half,” Joey said. “There are veterans buried there from the 1800s.”
Ann Hinton said that many veterans’ graves, easily identifiable with markers and small flags, appeared to have been targeted by the vandals. One of the vandalized headstones was that of N.D. Kenny, a Civil War veteran who died in 1907, town officials reported.
Joey said, “I sent out letters to major businesses in the area, and we had quite a few donations. The Barker Lions Club, American Legion Post, Masonic Lodge and Somerset Conservation Club helped, too. We raised about $2,000.
“By doing the work myself, I saved money,” he said. “Sixteen people from my troop and their families and my family helped.
“We managed to fix the broken headstones using epoxy to put them back together,” he said. “We stood the others back up that weren’t broken and leveled the ground. My goal was to fix the 37 that were vandalized, but we repaired over 50.”
Joey, a senior at Barker High School, has also worked for the past year at Cafora’s Restaurant in Newfane. He said he plans to attend college next year.
He has two older brothers – Charles, 24, who was an Eagle Scout, and Jake, 22, who obtained his Life Scout rank.
Joey said he has been a Scout since first grade. “Being a Scout requires a lot of time, but it’s worth it,” he said. “We do a lot of fun things. It’s a good time.”
Denny said his crew went to the cemetery after Joey finished his project and spent several days tidying up other areas, too.
“The cemetery is in really good shape now,” he said. “The Town Board has been very happy with the finished product.”
No further vandalism has occurred at the cemetery or at any of the local cemeteries, Engert said, and he credits the vigilance of the new Somerset Police Department, which began patrolling April 1.
“Through our more strategic patrolling efforts,” he said, “there has been a significant reduction in acts of vandalism in the town.”