For those of you who were visitors, volunteers, or on the staff of the Old City Cemetery from about 1997 to 2003, you will certainly remember Kenneth or “Kenny” Harsley, our beloved and capable head groundskeeper.
He died in his sleep on the evening of July 7, 2018, but happily, he had been enjoying life, work, and friendships right up until that last moment.
Former Executive Director Ted Delaney, Public Works Director Gaynelle Hart, and I attended Kenneth’s funeral at White Rock Baptist Church on Friday, July 13, along with about 400 others. It was a remarkable gathering of friends and family and a tribute to a gentleman who was the epitome of kindness, diligence, and responsibility.
In those early days of the Cemetery upkeep and development, Kenneth was the most efficient and knowledgeable groundskeeper. I depended on him completely. He knew what he was doing, and he anticipated every request from me long before it was presented. He would smile and say, “I just did that!” to my list of things to do for the day or the week. He always had a huge smile on his face, and he had so much common sense. There was just nothing he couldn’t do—and do well.
Personally, I admired him so much, and worked with him so well, that I talked about him all the time! Friends jokingly started calling him “Cemetery Kenneth” to distinguish him from “household Kenneth,” my husband!!
Kenneth may or may not have been a cook himself, but his sister Linda Pankey certainly was a fine cook. She made a very special cake that incorporated vanilla wafers, coconut, and black walnuts, which Kenneth brought to our annual Christmas celebration in the Cemetery Center. She shared the recipe, which is now in Jessica Ward’s Food to Die For cookbook. It was always a real highlight of the party. A funny memory was that I asked Kenneth if he gave this cake to families he knew who had had a death, and he replied “no,” he had another preferred gift for the bereaved. He said he always went out and got lots of rolls of toilet paper to help stock the family facilities because there were always so many unexpected visitors and those were practical necessities! How true!!
In addition to his work at the Old City Cemetery for all those years, he was proud of being one of the founders of a 25-year-old African American men’s organization, the Clarkstown Community Club. That group of distinguished gentleman were pallbearers at his funeral, but they were known for their numerous efforts of help for the elderly and young people in their neighborhood—from fixing things that were broken to providing food, and anything else that was needed. Kenny also helped maintain the Clarkstown Cemetery on Wiggington Road, where he is now buried.
After leaving the Cemetery Kenneth worked until his death for Conner Produce and was frequently seen driving his daily route all over Lynchburg. His boss there described him as his best worker ever.
Kenneth was predeceased by his parents and his brother Emmitt Harsley, Jr., and was survived by four children, eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, a devoted friend Wilma Baskerville, a brother, and a sister.
And I would like to add that he has left a huge hole in my heart for a special Cemetery groundskeeping friend. I will always remember that smile, his pride in his work, and his ever present kindness to everyone.
By Jane Baber White
Executive Director Emerita
July 13, 2018