Past Events from Oconee Hill Cemetery

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April, 2018 - Arbor Day 2018 Celebration

Seven Athens-area garden clubs were honored at an inaugural Arbor Day celebration at the Sextons’ House hosted by the Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery on Friday, April 27, 2018. The local clubs recognized include the Athens, Green Acres, Heritage, Junior Ladies, Ladies, Rose and Dahlia, and Town & Country Garden Clubs.  The event, also attended by members of the Friends Board, Oconee Hill Cemetery Trustees, and the Azalea District Director of the Garden Clubs of Georgia, Inc., thanked the local garden clubs for their financial donations to the Friends’ “reforestation project” following the loss of nearly a dozen ancient trees to damage done by Hurricane Irma in September.  In addition, the National Garden Clubs, Inc., was recognized for a $3,000 Natural Disasters Fund grant made to the Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery to assist in the reforestation effort.

Without the financial help provided by local garden clubs and private donors, the Friends would not have been able to afford to purchase and install 20 specimen oak trees in both the oldest and newer sections of the cemetery in December. Mike Glenn of Select Trees, who provided the trees at nearly his cost; Sally S. Allen of Stanfield Air Systems, Tom and Nancy Bowen, and the Thomas McKey Tillman Foundation were also thanked for their valuable support.

Attendees received Arbor Day programs that included a map of the locations of the 20 new trees. After coffee and refreshments provided by FOHC Board members Carol Reap and Jody Boling, the guests took a self-guided tour of West Hill to see the location of several of the newly-planted trees.


February, 2018 - Surprise Picnic Lunch

Lucy Allen, Chairperson of the trustees, recognized the efforts of the Oconee Hill Cemetery grounds crew for cutting the entire 117 acres, an achievement not accomplished for decades. “I want to thank their leader, Carl Grimes, our landscape consultant who managed the team members Brett Shuman, Jason Bowen, and Michael Jones for bring out the beauty of this historical, 161 year old Victorian Cemetery,” she said. She also acknowledged Billy Willoughby as a “miracle man” for his pinpoint marking of the graves and guiding the funeral homes and monument companies to always finding the right grave out of the thousands at the cemetery.  The ceremony, attended by about 30 patrons and friends, ended by a surprise ringing of the well-house bell that most did not know even existed. We hope all of our friends will notice how good the grounds look and thank the staff if you happen to see them!

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November, 2017 - Veterans' Day celebration

Maj. Antonio Pittman, UGA Army ROTC, and the Oconee County High School Choir helped the Friends honor local military veterans at our Veterans Day Observance, November 10, 2017. Congratulations to event chairman and Korean War veteran Gib Johnston for a job well done!  

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February, 2017 - Tree Crowning

Trees are one of the most important assets to Oconee Hill Cemetery. Yet over time some trees become diseased or die. The Friends Of Oconee Hill Cemetery secured a significant grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to help in this area. Recently dead and diseased trees that pose an immediate threat to historic areas of the cemetery were removed by locally run New Urban Forestry. The cemetery is grateful for the skill in which this work was done.

January, 2017 - Boy Scouts help place bird houses

Audubon’s Brian Cooke shows Boy Scouts the best place to build nesting places at Oconee Hill Cemetery

Boy Scout Troop 305 of Watkinsville, Georgia, and their Scout Master, Craig Vail, join Brian Cooke, President of the Oconee Rivers Audubon Society, to "scout out" the best sites for bird houses at Oconee Hill Cemetery.
The Scout’s goal is to install 15 bird nesting houses to help Oconee Hill Cemetery qualify for Audubon's sanctuary certification. Last Saturday 22 scouts and parents took a rain-drenched trek throughout the 100-acre cemetery as Mr. Cooke showed the best place to put the bird houses. “The Scouts are making boxes to attract the Eastern Screech Owl, Great Crested Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, Carolina Chickadee, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, and Purple Martin.” he said. 

January, 2017

Change in Leadership:  The trustees of Oconee Hill Cemetery elected new officers for two year terms beginning on January 1.  Lucy Allen, chairman; Tom Wilfong, vice chairman; Helen Mills, secretary; and Sissy Hutchinson, treasurer.  At large trustees are Mark Costantino, immediate past chairman, Corky Sams, and Bobby Gibson.  Our trustees continue to share their time and talents for the sustainability of Oconee Hill Cemetery.


November 11, 2015 - Veterans Day Celebration

On a beautiful fall afternoon, the Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery hosted their annual Veterans Day Celebration. Lt. Col. Brian Cozine, commander of the UGA Army ROTC, was the guest speaker. The UGA ROTC color guard presented the colors for the ceremony and the chorus from Prince Ave Christian School shared lovely singing for the gathered crowd.
Additional Photos:
Additional Video of the event can be found HERE.


November 8, 2015 - Poppy Party

The Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery hosted a Poppy Party in preparation of Veterans Day. At the center of the day was the reading of the book, The Poppy Lady, by former Athenian Moina Belle Michael. Children, parents, and grandparents gathered to hear this inspirational story about the tradition of the poppy and its symbolism with veterans followed by a hands on art project to create poppies for the upcoming Veterans Day Celebration held at the cemetery.
Related article about the event can be found HERE.

November 5, 2016

The 2016 Athens Heritage Walk Series came to Oconee Hill Cemetery. The walk was led by long time cemetery supporter Charlotte Marshall, author of Oconee HIll Cemetery of Athens, Ga., Volume I. 

Pictured are Watson Brown Junior Board members Jackson Keene, Anderson Felt, Fleming Smith, and Shelby Chasteen as well as FOHC Board members Janie Bush and Joe Tillman and Trustee Lucy Allen.

Pictured are Watson Brown Junior Board members Jackson Keene, Anderson Felt, Fleming Smith, and Shelby Chasteen as well as FOHC Board members Janie Bush and Joe Tillman and Trustee Lucy Allen.

Watson Brown Foundation Grant

The Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery was recently awarded a generous grant from the Watson Brown Foundation's Junior Board. The grant was awarded to the Friends for the preparation and production of materials – maps, signs, brochures, etc. – to show the historical significance of the cemetery and to aid visitors in locating graves and other key historic sites within the cemetery.

Mary Jordon Newton

On February 22, 1928, the Elijah Clarke Chapter, NSDAR, placed a bronze marker to pay tribute to Mary Jordan Newton's heritage and position as a Real Daughter of the Revolution (father: John Jordan). The bronze marker disappeared in the 1970-80s. Mary Jordan was a charter member of the first NSDAR Chapter in Athens organized in 1901.

On April 12, 2015 a new marker was dedicated in tribute to Mary Jordan Newton by the Elijah Clarke Chapter, NSDAR. It is located at Mary Jordan Newton's burial plot which also holds her husband John Hamlin Newton. The site is marked with a distinctive obelisk by the Newton family.

Capt. Jacob Phinizy

In 2013, the plot of Capt. Jacob Phinizy, 1790-1853, took a direct hit from a large oak tree that fell in a storm. The tree damaged the decorative iron fence, ledger top of Matilda Phinizy's burial place, and knocked over and significantly damaged a statue in honor of Margaret B. Phinizy Lockhart. After contributions from Phinizy family members across the country, the site has been repaired. The cemetery wishes to thank those family members who did so as an example of the positive affect families have in keeping the history and past present for us today. Neale Nickels of Virginia Preservation Group completed the stone repair and restoration work at the site as shown in the photo. Artistic Ornamental Iron Works of Athens repaired the fence. To see the finished project that included the cleaning of all the stone work, please stop by the cemetery soon!

Harry and Joann Yates

In honor of Harry Yates, long time treasurer and archival photographer for FOHC, and his wife Joann, a founding member and tireless volunteer for FOHC, drifts of hellebores have been planted on the knoll where the newly constructed Wingfield Chapel sits. Visitors will be able to see the lovely plants as they cross the bridge. Piccadilly Farm and Nursery donated a portion of the plants, and the Friends purchased more so that over 500 plants could grace the hillside to honor the Yates.

Charles Jones - February, 2015

WWII Vet Missing for 70 years is laid to rest at Oconee Hill Cemetery.

Online Athens article

Wingfield Chapel

An open-air chapel has been built on the shady knoll at the eastern end of the bridge spanning the Oconee River to connect the two major parts of Oconee Hill Cemetery. A project of Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery, the chapel was built in honor W. Terrell Wingfield and his family and in fulfillment of a one-hundred-year-old dream. A generous grant from the Francis Wood Wilson Foundation made it possible to erect this lovely stone structure. As most graves and lots are located in the eastern sections, many visitors to the cemetery drive across the bridge, coming face-to-face with a shady knoll dotted with tall pines but no manmade structures. One of the prettiest spots in the cemetery, this knoll is essentially an outcropping of solid granite, so it has never been considered feasible as a site for graves. On the other hand, it has long been viewed as an ideal location for a chapel; indeed, a drawing entitled "Plan for Oconee Hill Cemetery Extension" dated 1914 shows a proposed chapel on the very site where the Wingfield Chapel is built.

Wingfield's ties to Oconee Hill Cemetery go back several generations. More than a dozen members of his family are buried in Oconee Hill, including his great-grandmother and great-grandfather, grandmother and grandfather, mother and father and several aunts and uncles. He feels the chapel honors not only him, but also his family. "Granman", as he was named by his first grandson and is affectionately known by family and close friends, fittingly describes Wingfield and the role he has played as a Francis Wood Wilson trustee and as a community leader who has worked tirelessly to benefit others.

Annual Meeting

The annual meeting of the Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery and the Dedication of the Wingfield Chapel was held Sunday, October 26, 2014 from 2 to 4 pm. The meeting was held at the Chapel located in Oconee Hill.

OHC Annual Veteran's Day Observance

Oconee Hill Cemetery's annual Veterans Day Observance was held in the cemetery on Tuesday, November 11, 2014, at 11 am.

The Sexton's House, an historic 19th-century house, is now available for event rental in the heart of Athens

The Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery invite you to host your next event at the Sexton's House, located adjacent to the University of Georgia and only minutes from downtown Athens.

In response to numerous requests, the Sexton's House is now available for rental for functions other than those related to Oconee Hill Cemetery. It is a lovely setting for showers, teas, birthday or bridal luncheons, club or board meetings, and small receptions. With ample parking, the location is perfect for entertaining with its three parlors, dining room and center hall. Period furnishings add elegance to any event.

The wrap-around porches provide additional space for guests. The catering kitchen has a microwave oven and a commercial-size refrigerator with generous work space.

Available for rental seven days a week from 8 am until 6 pm in the summer and until 5 pm in the winter. The house and restrooms are wheel-chair accessible.

For information about reserving the Sexton's House, please contact the cemetery's sexton at 706.543.6262 or The house may also be reserved through any local funeral home. The house is a perfect size for luncheons, board meetings, seminars, showers or family reunions.

Friends Sponsor Series of Ads for Cemetery

You may have noticed a modest ad campaign in the Athens Banner-Herald during 2015. The Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery, working with the Trustees of OHC, underwrote this campaign in an effort to promote interest in the cemetery and to increase sales of lots. One of the main goals of the campaign was to counter the widespread assumption within our community that lots are no longer available and that Oconee Hill is "full." The quarter-page color ads appeared on the last Sunday of each month. The photographs were chosen to highlight the beauty and peacefulness of the cemetery. We also ran online ads on the Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays following the print ads on Online Athens. We are tracking both inquiries and lot sales to determine the campaign's effectiveness. 

UGA Classes Consult with Cemetery

The history, size, landscape and potential of Oconee Hill Cemetery and its proximity to the University of Georgia with its wealth of talent, research centers, energy and creativity make a liaison a logical "win-win" proposition.

The Office of Service Learning at the University of Georgia has been instrumental in helping the Friends make initial contact with several classes and units. One example is Jennifer Lewis of the College of Environment and Design who worked with the Friends to develop a strategy for improvements at the cemetery.

The collaboration between the board and Ms. Lewis's department resulted in far-reaching ideas:

  • Cleanup of the African-American/Pauper Burying Grounds
  • Install a kiosk or computer system that would provide visitor information, such as maps, burial sites or lot availability
  • Create a long-range landscape plan
  • Compile a long-range management plan for strategic projects
  • Install an irrigation system throughout the cemetery
  • Obtain grants to digitalize records and information to set up an online searchable data base
  • Purchase security cameras for gates and interior of cemetery
  • Continue to purchase supplies and equipment for maintenance
  • Repair important iron work, significant statuary and grave markers
  • Install cohesive directional signage throughout the cemetery

Judson Abbott, a graduate student for a Masters of Landscape Architecture degree, wrote his thesis "Envisioning a Living Landscape," using Oconee Hill Cemetery for his study. Many aspects including history, design, perception in the community, management issues, etc. were considered. Abbott reviewed similar cemeteries searching for alternative ideas and developed a survey which then polled visitors as to their observations. His 156-page thesis has maps, pictures and a wealth of information that will be invaluable. A copy of his thesis is available to those interested in the University of Georgia Libraries.

Professor James Reap and his classes have been sources of invaluable help for the Friends, and their help will be appreciated long in the future as the ideas his classes suggested come to fruition. Reap divided his class in Preservation Economics into two teams, one analyzing OHC needs for a fund raising/grant writing project and the other half surveying the Athens Historical Society's need for similar needs. Students Milton Perry, Jennifer Bailey, Renee Donnell, Lauren Hughes and Parker Lawrence met with FOHC board members to assess needs. The strategic list encouraged by Jennifer Lewis provided the starting point for their study. The team researched similar cemeteries in the US and determined grant options. The students determined that a long-range management plan was the first step. This plan should be made by a professional firm specializing in historic preservation and cultural resource protection.

At their final presentation the students gave the FOHC committee a step-by-step directive for the application for a grant to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for funds. Because their information was so detailed and specific, the committee was able to complete the application within a very short period of time. This grant was approved and will provide for a professional assessment/long-range management and tree assessment/planting plan for the cemetery.

It is our hope that the University of Georgia and the community will continue to recognize and utilize the opportunities that Oconee Hill provides.