Thanks to funds from the CNS Community Investment Fund distributed by Y-12, the Soloman's Temple Cemetery near Vonore, Tennessee, has been restored.
CNS established its Community Investment Fund at Y-12 in 2015. The Y-12 fund is a partnership with the East Tennessee Foundation. Since then, more than 120 grants totaling nearly $700,000 have been awarded to nonprofit organizations and educational institutions in the East Tennessee region. One recent Y-12 grant was for the restoration of Soloman’s Temple Cemetery near Vonore, Tennessee.
Y-12 community relations lead Gene Patterson said, “It started as a service project for the Rhea-Craig Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The challenge was to restore an old African American cemetery that had been abandoned and almost forgotten. In 2018, the Y-12 Community Investment Fund awarded a $9,000 grant to the group.”
For Caren Lorelle, corresponding secretary of the Rhea-Craig Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, that effort became much more personal. The restoration of Soloman’s Temple Cemetery in Vonore became an act of love and respect for people she never knew. Lorelle was instrumental in securing a grant from the Community Investment Fund that began the restoration project.
“This has been a very emotional project for me,” she said. “I have grown to love the people buried in this cemetery and the people who are their descendants who first introduced me to this project.”
The cemetery dates back to the 19th century. It had become overgrown with vegetation and trees, even invading many of the rotting pine coffins that had sunk into the Monroe County soil.
From family histories and other documentation, Lorelle said they know that 99 people are buried in the cemetery, and include African Americans and Cherokee Native Americans. Many of the graves are unmarked, and so far, the restoration team has been able to locate and identify about 60 percent of the graves.
“Because of the era, many African Americans were forced to bury their dead in remote areas outside the city limits,” Lorelle said. “During the days of slavery, they had to bury their loved ones after dark.”
In spring 2019, Lorelle marshalled her forces and began bringing the cemetery and the histories of those buried there back to life.
Trees were cut, vegetation was removed, and grave markers were restored. Among the discoveries was the grave of a Civil War veteran, an African American named James McGhee. His grave was unmarked, but through the years, his story remained alive. This veteran was born in 1837, and during the Civil War, he was a member of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. He survived the war and lived years beyond, dying in 1927.
When U.S. Veterans Affairs heard about McGhee and his unmarked grave, they contacted Allen White, who was hired to restore the stone markers. Veterans Affairs wanted to honor McGhee by ordering a stone marker for him. Last summer, it was delivered and set. The inscription reads: James McGhee. Born August 8, 1837. Died August 16, 1927.
A permanent sign listing all 99 souls believed to be buried at Soloman’s Temple Cemetery will soon stand at the entrance. A rededication of the cemetery is being planned for this spring.
“I want to recognize every person buried there,” Lorelle said. “It’s the least we can do.”
Have you ever tried to teach a six-year-old about business, economics, entrepreneurship, or ethics? What sounds like an impossible task is exactly what six Y-12 volunteers did through the Junior Achievement of East Tennessee program. For 100 years, Junior Achievement has been giving kids the real-world skills and knowledge to be 100% ready. For work. For financial success. For life. For the future.
One Y-12 employee decided to jump in and get involved after she learned about the need for volunteers. “I knew I would love to get involved; however, I was always hesitant to just make that leap and sign up,” she said. “Finally, I took a leap and did something I had been wanting to do for a while.”
Junior Achievement volunteers, in cooperation with the teacher, lead structured activities and discussions on work-readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy skills. Volunteers who teach in the classroom provide students with positive adult role-models. These volunteers also impact students through building self-confidence, developing skills, and offering encouragement needed to promote a learning environment and healthy bonds.
She chose a first grade class at Clinton Elementary School and taught them throughout the fall semester, once a week for eight weeks.
“The kids were able to learn about needs, wants, businesses, and communities. The students created their own business, drew an advertisement to market their business, took in a customer, and were ‘paid’ for their services,” she said. “At the very end, they could turn in their ‘salary’ for a fun snack mix that they got to create.”
Junior Achievement’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. Their hands-on, experiential programs teach the key concepts of work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy to young people all over the world. Today's East Tennessee students are tomorrow's CEOs, entrepreneurs, innovators, and game-changers.
This new volunteer encourages other Y-12ers to jump in, volunteer, and help empower and teach the next generation. “It was a far greater experience than I could have ever imagined and highly encourage anyone who is hesitant to just take the leap and get involved.”
Y-12ers again showed their giving spirit during the 2019 United Way campaign. Donations determined the winner in the car show. Scott and Mary Lou Underwood’s 1972 Corvette Stingray and Mike Antonas’ 1975 AMC Pacer won first and second place, respectively.
New this year was the opportunity to “Flock your Friends.” In exchange for a donation to United Way, bright, pink flamingoes of all sizes flocked to your coworkers’ offices. Employees could pay to flock an office yourself, or for a healthy donation, they could anonymously flock a friend with “certified flamingo technicians” delivering the birds. The more than $2,000 in donations was added to employees’ contributions through payroll deduction.
“I have seen the heart of our employees consistently in the nearly 20 years I’ve been at Y-12, and it still fills me with pride every time I see it,” said Amy Wilson, the 2019 Y-12 United Way campaign chair. “I had the opportunity at the kickoff to see a lot of laughter and a lot of giving. I love that even our awesome volunteers were having a good time while serving the community.”
Members of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council and the Knoxville Building and Construction Trades Council share insight with students about career opportunities in the crafts/trades fields within the Nuclear Security Enterprise.
During the school year, CNS employees have opportunities to volunteer with students and share their knowledge. This year, Y-12 has added several educational outreach events that focused on the various trade careers available within the enterprise.
Students from Meigs County visited Y-12 this fall and explored tools of the trade and asked questions. Y-12 employees and members of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council and the Knoxville Building and Construction Trades Council staffed the booths allowing students to interact with electricians, carpenters, insulators, painters, and machinists.
“With today’s need for skilled labor, it’s good to have kids see their options aside from college,” Jared Kesterson, a carpenter and volunteer, said.
Monica Lewis, a carpenter at Y-12 for 29 years, said, “By working and volunteering these events, I hope to inspire and encourage young women to enter this primarily male dominant field.”
Scott Underwood, Senior Director of Y-12 Infrastructure, addresses volunteers at the most recent Help the Smokies Day.
Y-12 employees, retirees, and family members joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory and National Park Service employees for a work day at the Great Smoky Mountains Nation Park’s Chimneys picnic area. The crew completed work on the lower end of the area by refreshing the rock base, filling in fall hazards and drop-offs that could affect driving and repairing damaged hand rails. The team also removed leaves and repaired or replaced timbers that provide the base for the tables and grills across the area. As part of effort to reduce damage to tabletops from hot cooking utensils, the team also installed new hot plates across picnic area.
These efforts were the latest in the Help the Smokies project that has been ongoing since 1996.