Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Amazing...Brad Jencks

Have you ever walked by a forgotten cemetery? One that’s old and tired? Perhaps one that has been neglected for so long that the local kids now believe it’s haunted?

In the town of Bingham City, 15 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah, one such cemetery exists. But instead of tip-toeing around the crumpling headstones or ignoring the cemetery altogether, Brad Jencks decided to do something about it.

Since Brad did such a terrific job telling me about his work, here are his accomplishments in his own words:

“My school district inherited a ghost town cemetery with burials of 30 nations (People came to Utah for employment. A lot of people died young, and many immigrants were not sent home for proper burial in their native land due to lack of money). What started as a 100-hour Eagle Scout service project proposal was met at 2,790 man-hours.

“Still, I saw many needs and kept volunteering. I organized 2000+ volunteers over five years who restored and preserved grave markers, proved 1,100 unknown burials, authored a 1,500-page historical cemetery book, and installed a wall of honor for 1,825 burials. I received $75,000 funding/donations for a new fence, road, replacement headstones, and a granite military monument honouring veterans of six wars. I produced DVDs for The History Channel and Roots Television plus co-created a database, digitized the data, and donated it to the State Historical Society and free genealogy websites. I started a project entitled ‘Connecting Families Across The Globe’ and have noted much success in helping living family find family who share the same heritage and ancestry from Bingham City Cemetery. This is touching lives worldwide.”

Brad goes on to explain more of his daunting task: “Four Boy Scout troops helped me take a GPS reading and photograph of every headstone and burial. We hand recorded all [of the] information that we could read. Next I obtained an aerial photograph of the cemetery and made a map. My team helped place 2,400 flyers on gravesites, and we involved the news media, requesting more information about the many unknown burials. I have spent the past five years at the cemetery each Memorial Day weekend interviewing all visitors for information. My team and I also conduct international interviews via email. I co-created a database that reconstructed records lost by fire, flood, deterioration, and vandalism. Teams of students from four schools helped search old books, newspapers, [and] 157 rolls/53,000 names on microfilm to find burial records. We repaired vandalism caused by devil worshippers. Over the course of many years, scout troops, 4-H, Bingham High football team, and others helped me install new headstones. Recently the Veterans Administration granted approval, and all damaged or unreadable military headstones were replaced after years of extensive research. A formal military dedication took place, honoring those who risked their lives for us, our freedom, and our nation. I also learned to decipher several new languages about the many immigrant graves. The challenges were many, but each obstacle was met [by] the generosity of a community, ages 7–94, who donated 6,000 hours to help me.”

How has what started as a simple Eagle Scout project affected the community of Bingham City? Brad says, “This has brought my family and community together in a cause greater than self. A school service recognition club was formed as a result of this, plus I’ve spoken at a number of school assemblies motivating service. Now a school district can use tax payers’ money on education instead of cemetery issues. I made a historical brochure and educational walking tour for this ghost town cemetery. I teach lessons from tragic deaths resulting from drugs, alcohol, violence, rape, lack of medical care, and problems associated with past prejudice. These lessons change lives. At the conclusion of my educational tour, each member gives brief service to the cemetery. I created a job for myself as International Research Correspondent and lead a four-member team responding to inquiries, helping people from distant lands receive answers to what happened when letters to home stopped. ‘Connecting Families Across The Globe’ remains my lifelong hobby and endeavor!”

Brad concludes by advising, “Give of your time, talents, and skills to help people in this world that need you. If every person took one hour to help another, just imagine how this world would be a much better place. We need the youth of America to stand up and serve during these hard economic times. We are the future leaders of tomorrow. It starts with each one of us. Go out and do something good. Service will bless your life as you help others.”

If you’d like to check out “Connecting Families Across the Globe,” please visit the website at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~utsaltla/Cemeteries/Bingham/.

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