Fried chicken and fixin’s, banana pudding and homemade pies, topped with a slab of juicy, cold watermelon under the shade of a tree or a pavilion indicates a picnic southerners take delight in preparing and serving. In Kilgore, such a picnic will take place during the annual Danville Cemetery picnic.
“Originally, the picnic at the cemetery began in 1926,” said Morris Hollowell, president of the Danville Cemetery Association. At that time, it was up to the families who had loved ones buried there to maintain the cemetery. The men would gather and clean the grounds and the women would cook and bring food to eat. The association was formed in 1933 to help with organizing the work and the last Thursday of the month in June every year was chosen for the meeting day.
“It became a big deal,” said Debbie Mercer Hollowell. “It was the place for politicians to come and try to win favor of votes from the families. Concession stands were set up and politicians would buy the kids cokes and candy. And the women tried to outdo each other with their cooking.”
One third of the cemetery was owned by the church, another third was owned by the Masonic Lodge and the last third is still owned by the cemetery association. A log church known as the Gum Springs Presbyterian Church stood near the cemetery for 120 years before it burned in 1977.
“I just love going and visiting with the people,” said Bobbie Hearell. She became a member of the association in 1953 shortly after moving to the Danville Community. “ I lived off on the back side of the cemetery near the Danville school. She moved to Nacogdoches to be near her son a couple of years ago, but still remains in close contact with the families and some on a daily basis.
“The Danville picnic was an all day affair and not just a meal,” said Laverne Mercer. “Boys would meet their girlfriends at the picnic,” said Laverne Mercer. “Danville always had the cutest boys and they would be at the picnic. She should know as she ended up marrying one by the name of Talmadge Mercer and were together for 74 years before his passing. Talmadge volunteered many hours with the upkeep of the old part of the Danville Cemetery. Soon to be 92 years old, Laverne has been attending the picnic for 78 of those years. I took my daughter, Pam to her first Danville picnic when she was one week old. I had to start her out right. Oh, I will be there again this year,” she laughed.
“We are hoping the younger families will carry on with the tradition long after we are gone. “
New additions to the “old Danville” were added on by Rader Funeral Home and later acquired by the City of Kilgore. The Danville Cemetery Association continues to watch over the “old part” while the City of Kilgore maintains it. Families with loved ones still have to reach out to the association to have other members buried.
“Some people think they can just lay claim to a spot in the older part of the cemetery and they can’t,” said Morris. “ We do get a lot of requests.” A sign placed in the cemetery in 1952 is in need of repair and tops the list of the association’s work for this year.
For those who love a good mystery, there is some still lingering in the old part. Some of the graves are unmarked and it is also where Karen Silkwood is buried. It has been said her grave shines at night due to the exposure to radiation while working as a chemical technician for at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron site in Crescent, Oklahoma. She died in a car accident shortly after her termination with the company. The movie, Silkwood was released in 1983.
“Yes, she is buried in the old part,” said Morris. “But, it will have to be up to the seeker to find her.”
The Danville Cemetery is located near Kilgore on Danville Road .28 miles West of U.S. Hwy. 259 on FM 2087 south of Highway 349. It is a beautiful cemetery, well-maintained, slightly hidden by tree-lined fence, but those living in the area will gladly point the way.
Pastor David Hampton will be the guest speaker and yes, there will be some handsome young men (and ladies) attending to provide entertainment. Those will be Sawyer, Evelyn and Jimmy Sullens whose parents are Dinah and Keith Sullens. Siblings Gabe, Davey and Colton will not be able to perform at the picnic this year due to other commitments.
“All of them play different instruments and have most of their lives,” said their Aunt Penny Clark. She and Katy are currently on tour in Arkansas and hope to make it to the picnic.
“The activities start at 11 a.m. so come beforehand so you can set up and visit before-hand,” suggests Morris.
This is the picnic of the year, if you are ready to come. It is not just for the families of loved ones in the old part. Just pack it up and bring on - you will be welcomed with southern hospitality and their fares as well. Hmm...I am kind of thinking peach cobbler may be what it bring....
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