Belser Cemetery a restful place

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 24, 2003

Past the Oak Bowery church on the Briar Hill Road lies a historical treasure so small and isolated from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Troy that you could live your whole life in Pike County and never find it.

The Belser Cemetery sits in a clearing beyond trailer homes and red clay dirt banks. Pine trees dot the landscape off County Road 1 past Shellhorn.

Obie Russell helps keep up the Belser Cemetery. Russell is an 88-year-old man who changes his own tractor tires. One gets a sense from talking to him that the cemetery is in very good hands.

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&uot;That cemetery started up back in 1874 when Mr. Dennis was buried out there,&uot; he said. &uot;There were two farmers, Mr. Dennis and Mr. Belser. They started it.&uot;

Though the earliest men put to rest there were Civil War veterans, the cemetery is still in use today.

&uot;We just had somebody put in out there a few weeks ago,&uot; Russell said.

Russell took over taking care of the cemetery in 1978. He returned to Pike County in 1946 after serving as a merchant linked to military purchases.

&uot;I worked on the army post exchange and went to Ft. Benning in Georgia in 1939 and also went to South Carolina while General Patton was there running war games. We had a caf and sold almost everything,&uot; he said.

Upon returning to his native Pike County, Russell ran a country store full of warmth, rich stories and local color for 30 years before being put out of business by a large chain.

He began to take note of local events and finally agreed to help fund and keep up the cemetery.

&uot;People just gave money to the fund and we keep it up with that money and the donations,&uot; he said.

Cathy McKinney, Russell's niece, also helps with the work.

&uot;We've got an acre out there and we just got two more in case we need it later,&uot; Russell said.

One day, Russell said he would join his father, brother, uncle, grandfather and grandmother on his mother's side. All are buried in the green plot, tucked off the Briar Hill road, known as the Belser Cemetery.

Stephen Stetson can be reached at stephen.stetson