By Tamas Mondovics
Cemeteries and burial grounds might not be thought of as beautiful historic sites, but there are plenty of local residents and volunteers who will vouch for just that along with their importance of everyday life and culture.
The Bloomingdale Cooperative Community Cemetery, formerly known as the Hendrix Family Cemetery until Peter D. Hendrix donated the five acres for a community cemetery, is just one of those historic sites located at 3301 Bloomingdale Ave. in Valrico, about one mile east of Lithia Pinecrest Road.
According to local volunteers who have been working tirelessly to maintain these sometimes less heralded historic places, cemeteries are not only important, but are present in nearly every community. “We are hoping to get the word out that this indeed is a community cemetery,” said long time Bloomingdale resident Candi Martin. “Even folks who have family buried here have no idea what it takes to maintain the cemetery. Many assume the church owns and maintains it. Others, I guess, assume the occupants maintain it.” Martin, who personally has great-great grandparents, great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, sister-in-law and a son buried at the cemetery, emphasized that the Hendrix came from South Alabama to Florida in 1842 and is a prominent family in the cemetery.
The first person buried in the cemetery was Artemesia Hendrix who died in 1901 of typhoid fever.
While the cemetery has plenty of markers from the early 1900s, volunteers say many markers have been removed, damaged or were of a material that did not survive the test of time. Many of the families buried there were the families of the Bloomingdale community, dating back to the late 1800s.
Some of those familiar family names include; Garner, Parrish, Hendrix, McLean, Quick, Summerall, Martin, Stearns and Stone, with living relatives who still reside in the Bloomingdale and Brandon area. One such relative includes Martin’s first cousin, Hazel McLean Henderson, who just turned 101 and still lives in Brandon.
Helen Mulrennan Young, who lived just around the corner from the cemetery, and who grew up where Mulrennan Middle School is currently located, also lives in Brandon as a “very spry 94 year-old” with plenty of stories to tell.
The cemetery is currently cared for by the Bloomingdale Cooperative Cemetery Company, a 501 (c) (13) organization, led by an all volunteer seven-member board of directors.
The cemetery is maintained by Jamie Cooley, a descendent of the Parrish family, the only paid contractor who volunteers say does much more than what he is paid to do, which is simply mow the grass. Board members keep records, meet families at the cemetery to mark a grave for a burial, maintain a phone for families and funeral homes to contact them and keep the records as best they can.
“We are not a perpetual care cemetery, such as Hillsboro Memorial Gardens, so we depend on families with loved ones buried here to help us,” Martin said as she emphasized that Board is hosting its annual meeting scheduled for Saturday, April 29 at 11 a.m., inside the Bloomingdale Regional Library’s McLean Family Community Room.
The meeting provides volunteers and members a venue to discuss the financial and president’s annual report, as well as ways to support and maintain the cemetery’s proper function.
Unlike other businesses, cemeteries, particularly ones in heavily populated areas, can only operate for so long before they run out of their main product; usable space to put bodies in.
How do cemeteries keep from themselves going under and what happens when it runs out of money?
“When that happens, the site will become an “abandoned” cemetery and turned over to the state,” Martin said, but then added, “It is a constant worry. I don’t know how many years beyond 63 I might have, but that will not happen as long as I can do anything to prevent it.”
For information about Bloomingdale Cooperative Community Cemetery, call 438-9657. Donations are tax deductible.