Quest results in dedication, “Albuquerque Journal

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Volunteers work Saturday morning to clean up the historic Fairview Cemetery in Albuquerque. From left, volunteers Sara Sather, Gail Rubin and Janet Saiers help burn tumbleweeds. ((Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal))

Editor’s Note: Today the journal continues The Good News File, a series of uplifting stories in collaboration with KOAT-TV and KKOB Radio. The journal will publish “good news” on the first Friday of the month. KOAT-TV will present this feature every second Friday and KKOB every third Friday.

Anthony Gomez never knew where his father was buried.

Bobby Gomez was attacked and murdered in Belen in 1977 while walking home from a shop.

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Anthony Gomez was living in California with his mother when a police officer showed up to break the bad news to the family.

“The thing is, we didn’t have the money to come home for the funeral,” he said. “I didn’t know where he was buried.”

He would be an adult before he got the answer.

Anthony Gomez, who returned to Albuquerque with his grandparents in 1979, began exploring the city on his bike seven years ago. The slow pace allowed him to admire old buildings and historic buildings that you might not notice from a car. He began to explore the places he saw and it prompted him to grapple with his own past.

Anthony Gomez, historic Fairview Cemetery volunteer

“When I started riding my bike, I said, ‘I’m going to look for my father. ‘”

After some searching, Gomez finally found his father in the historic Fairview Cemetery with the help of his girlfriend, the historian Susan Schwartz, who did extensive work there to organize ancient records.

He was able to pay his final respects and it also inspired him to join the group of volunteers who maintain the cemetery.

“It was really exciting for me to find him,” said Gomez. “I started to think that the other people there might no longer have families to look after their graves.”

It is now the commitment of local volunteers like Gomez that is keeping the cemetery from deteriorating.

The nonprofit, Historic Fairview Cemetery Association, which oversees maintenance, runs monthly cleanup days during which volunteers dig and reset headstones, clear out tumbleweeds, collect trash, and whatever else is needed.

Anthony Gomez stands near sidewalks he discovered and excavated in historic Fairview Cemetery in February. Gomez discovered his father’s grave in the cemetery. (Courtesy Anthony Gomez)

Gomez took part, but he puts in an additional 10 hours a month. He said he made it his business to remove sand from the concrete boundaries that surround the family properties.

A previous picture shows the buried sidewalks in historic Fairview Cemetery. (Courtesy Anthony Gomez)

His goal is to make each and every one of them visible. He made other discoveries as well.

“I found some sidewalks by the front gate a few months ago,” he said. “You were about a foot under some sand.”

After a couple of hours he had them evacuated.

The cemetery is adjacent to the later established Fairview Memorial Park. Although the two locations off Southeast Yale share the same site – separated only by a wall – there is a stark contrast between them. The newer side is lush with tall trees and grass, while the historical part has no vegetation, including grass, and tumbleweeds and sand have invaded most of the burial sites.

Claude Valles, a volunteer at Historic Fairview Cemetery, is clearing weeds and debris from the parcels during a cleanup day this month. Without volunteers, the historic cemetery would most likely fall into disrepair. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

The last funeral in the historic part of the site took place in 2014. In that year the historic part of the property also became charitable and the association was founded to monitor it.

The 17-acre historic Fairview is one of the city’s oldest cemeteries and was established as a makeshift burial site in 1881. About 12,000 people are buried there, including prominent citizens such as developer and entrepreneur Franz Huning, Governor Edmund G. Ross, and former President of the University of New Mexico, James Fulton Zimmerman.

Volunteer Dillon Byrd

Another dedicated volunteer is working to ensure that the community finds the graves of these prominent citizens. Dillon Byrd, a 15-year-old student at Sandia High School, selected Historic Fairview for its Eagle Scout program.

Byrd plans to purchase and install street signs on the main streets of the property to make it easier to find a burial site, which is now a challenge. The streets are named for a prominent person buried along their route, including Governor EG Ross Road, Huning Harwood Road, and Dietz Lane.

“It was really confusing, so I decided to do these characters,” said Byrd. “I hope people can navigate the cemetery better.”

Gail Rubin, president of the nonprofit Historic Fairview, said the cemetery has been neglected for a long time and it is a huge task to maintain – something that would not be possible without volunteers.

“We care for the cemetery as best we can and share the history and lives of the New Mexico people buried there,” said Rubin. “It really is an outdoor history museum.”

Members of the nonprofit will be giving tours of the cemetery grounds on May 31, Memorial Day, to raise funds, as well as an exhibition of vintage cars from the early 20th century.

They ask for a donation of USD 20 per person. Visit historicallyfairviewcemeterabq.org or the group’s Facebook page for more information.

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