Editor’s note:Today, the Journal continues “The Good News File,” a series of uplifting stories in partnership with KOAT-TV and KKOB Radio. The Journal will publish a “Good News” feature the first Friday of the month, KOAT-TV will present its feature each second Friday and KKOB each third Friday.
Anthony Gomez never knew where his father was buried.
Benny Gomez was attacked and murdered in Belen in 1977 while walking home from a store.
Anthony Gomez was living in California with his mom when a police officer showed up to give the family the bad news.
“The thing is, we had no 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 moved back to Albuquerque in 1979 with his grandparents, began exploring the city on his bike seven years ago. The slow pace allowed him to take in old buildings and historic properties one might not notice from a car. He began researching the places he saw and it pushed him to delve into his own past.
“It was when I started riding my bike that I said, ‘I’m gonna look for my dad.’ ”
After some searching, Gomez finally located his father in the Historic Fairview Cemetery with the help of his friend, historian Susan Schwartz, who has done extensive work organizing old records there.
He was able to pay his last respects and it also inspired him to join the group of volunteers who maintain the cemetery.
“That was really thrilling to me to find him,” Gomez said. “I started thinking maybe the other people there, they don’t have any family left to maintain their burial sites.”
It’s now the dedication of local volunteers like Gomez that keeps the cemetery from falling into disrepair.
The nonprofit Historic Fairview Cemetery Association, which oversees maintenance, holds monthly clean-up days with volunteers unearthing and resetting headstones, clearing tumbleweeds, picking up trash and whatever else is needed.
Gomez has participated but he also puts in an additional 10 hours a month. He said he’s made it his mission to clear sand from the concrete borders that surround family plots.
His goal, he said, is to make every single one of them visible. He’s also made other discoveries.
“A couple months ago, I found some sidewalks at the front gate,” he said. “They were about a foot under some sand.”
After a few hours, he had them cleared.
The cemetery is next to Fairview Memorial Park, which was established later. Although the two places share the same grounds off Southeast Yale – separated only by a wall – there is a stark contrast between them. The newer side is lush with large trees and grass, while the historic portion lacks vegetation, including grass, and tumbleweeds and sand have invaded most burial sites.
The last burial in the historic part of the grounds was in 2014. That was also the year the historic portion of the property became a nonprofit and the association was created to oversee it.
The 17-acre Historic Fairview is one of the city’s oldest cemeteries, founded in 1881 as a makeshift burial site. About 12,000 people are buried there, including prominent citizens like developer and entrepreneur Franz Huning, Gov. Edmund G. Ross and former University of New Mexico President James Fulton Zimmerman.
Another dedicated volunteer is working to make sure the community can find the graves of those prominent citizens. Dillon Byrd, a 15-year-old sophomore at Sandia High School, has chosen Historic Fairview for his Eagle Scout program.
Byrd plans to purchase and install street signs on the property’s major roads to make it easier to locate a burial site, which is now a challenge. Streets will be named for a prominent person buried along its route, including Gov. E.G. Ross Road, Huning Harwood Road and Dietz Lane.
“It was really confusing so I decided to do these signs,” Byrd said. “I’m hoping people will be able to navigate the cemetery better.”
Gail Rubin, president of the nonprofit Historic Fairview organization, said the cemetery was neglected for a long time and that it’s a huge job to keep it up – something that couldn’t be done without volunteers.
“We maintain the cemetery as best we can and share the history and lives of New Mexico people buried there,” Rubin said. “It’s really an outdoor history museum.”
Members of the nonprofit will host guided tours of the cemetery grounds on May 31, Memorial Day, to raise funds, along with a display of early 1900s classic cars.
They are asking for a $20 donation per person. Visit historicfairviewcemeteryabq.org or the group’s Facebook page for more information.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.