Bellevue Cemetery on road to recovery after post-Florence donations

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The historic cemetery has received around $8,000 in donations to aid in its recovery effort in 2019.

WILMINGTON – Spring has sprung in Bellevue Cemetery and for its keepers, the sight couldn’t be sweeter.

The historic non-profit cemetery off Princess Place Street was beaten and battered by Hurricane Florence eight months ago, and limited staffing and resources left its volunteers struggling to make a dent in the clean-up effort.

Without a perpetual care fund or a source of income, volunteers like Charlie Rivenbark, Marion Vernon and Ed Richards were left to do the work themselves, with a small weekly batch of locals serving community service hours.

But in the first half of 2019, Bellevue has seen a rush of community support to help return to the beloved site to its pristine state.

Since January, the 32-acre cemetery has received around $8,000 in financial contributions to aid in its recovery, according to Rivenbark, who is also a city councilman.

“It has been a nice outpouring of help from far away and close by,” he said. “It took my breath away a bit how people stepped up to help.”

The support hasn’t just been in checks and cash. In February, Mike Walker, University of North Carolina Wilmington associate vice chancellor and dean of students, brought more than 30 students to help pitch in on the clean-up effort for a “Dean’s Day of Service.”

In the past decade, the cemetery saw most of its income from film and television productions that sought out the picture-ready property as a filming location. When the local film industry hit a lull in recent years, the cemetery saw its saving account dwindle.

Last week, they got their first check in years when the independent film “Uncle Frank” shot for nearly 12 hours in the cemetery. Rivenbark said the $1,500 the cemetery earned from the film was put toward new two lawnmowers just in time for the spring.

Most of the cemetery’s equipment was lost during the hurricane when its storage container was flooded in the rising waters of Brunt Mill Creek. With new equipment, Rivenbark said he now reliably count on getting them to crank – something that was always a question mark with the old mowers.

But the work isn’t done and support is still needed. The next mountains to tackle are raising money to haul off the pile of collective debris and stumps and the continued repair of a number of broken gravestones being done by Vernon.

Rivenbark is also working with the Cape Fear Garden Club president Eric Kozon, who also runs Oakdale Cemetery, to secure some flowers and scrubs to spruce up the property. A lot of the dogwoods were killed by the salt water the flooded the back of the property.

“We are 80 percent back to better than where we were before the storm, minus 42 big, beautiful trees,” he said.

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or