F.C. Fogleman chuckles, recalling how his uncle paid him for cutting the 5-acre Big Cane Baptist Church Cemetery when he was a young boy.
MORROW – F.C. Fogleman chuckles, recalling how his uncle paid him for cutting the 5-acre Big Cane Baptist Church Cemetery when he was a young boy.
By today’s standards it wouldn’t even come close.
“Usually it was a cold, bottled Coke or sometimes it was two, maybe four, bits,” the 75-year-old Fogleman said. “And to a 10-year-old boy, it certainly seemed like a lot back then.”
Using a push mower, Fogleman would cut at least once or twice a week after school and all through the summer, he recalls.
“My uncle – Henry Gordon – would help every now and then, but usually he did other things, like fixing different things around the church. It wasn’t hard because there wasn’t as many graves back then.”
Today, the cemetery is full, and the church, which is landlocked, has had to buy another two acres adjacent to it, but church members, such as Fogleman and 88-year-old Leo Rabalais, work diligently on the upkeep of both.
The church also utilizes the help it gets from inmates who are brought to the cemetery by the St. Landry Sheriff’s Office. The inmates trim and do extra cleaning, such as rake and pick up the numerous sticks that fall from the oaks that fill the cemetery.
“We feed them, and I always try to get the inmates quarters, because that’s all they can use in jail,” said Fogleman, a Korean War veteran. “But you’ve got to call well in advance to book them so they will come out here.”
The church organizes its annual community-wide workweek during the third week in July, but recently it has had to increase the number of church-wide workweeks to keep up with the work.
“BoBee (Fogleman) and I do a lot work here ourselves, but we are not as young as we once were,” said Rabalais, an army veteran in the Pacific during World War II. “We both have a lot of our family members buried here. As a matter of fact, my grandfather – Peter Jacobs – is buried right over here. [
He pointed to a small granite headstone on which the inscription reads: Peter Jacobs, 16th Inf. Div. CSA [Confederate States of America].”
But church members have always taken special care of their historic cemetery.
The Big Cane Baptist Church was organized on July 12, 1846. In the 1800s, the Big Cane settlement dominated its section of St. Landry Parish as a center of commerce, with boats loading and unloading provisions at its wharves. There was a post office at Big Cane by 1855.
With the coming of the railroad in 1882, the importance of water transportation receded, and, with it, the importance of Big Cane. The church and the 5-acre cemetery behind the church remained, serving the people of the small, rural community.
Unfortunately, there is just so much the Big Cane congregation, whose average age is between 50 and 60, can do. And the cost of outside help for the upkeep of the 162-year-old cemetery continues to skyrocket.
“We budget about $2,000 annually for both cemeteries, and we usually spend between $1,400 to $1,500 a year on both,” Rabalais said.
“We had a man that was cutting it twice a month for us for about $125, but his son took it over for him. The other day I had my wife make out a check to him for $130 because of the higher gas prices, but he told me he needed $140.”
Ordinarily, it might not be a strain on the 60-member congregation, but they are facing a crunch themselves. On March 18, a strong spring storm roared through southern, central Louisiana spawning thunderstorms and strong winds. In its aftermath, a 150-year-old oak tree was blown down crushing the fence that surrounds the cemetery.
“The windstorm caused almost $2,700 worth of damage that was not covered by insurance,” Pastor Brian Johnston said. “It cost us $2,000 to have the tree removed and $658 to repair the fence. It took everything we had in our cemetery fund to pay both costs.”
To try and offset the cost for the storm damage, and to meet the demands of rising maintenance for up-keep and improvements, the church, in its yearly letter to families who have love ones buried there, is asking for help, both financial and physical.
“We are hoping people will generous with their contributions,” Rabalais said. “Many families do use the cemetery, make a one-time contribution, and then we never hear from them again.
“But there are so many faithful contributors that always come up with the extra,” Rabalais said. “We are most appreciative to those who pick up the slack and help us keep going. This year, though, because of the damage, we are seeking contributions from any willing to give.
“God will take care of the situation, of that I am sure,” Johnston said. “We are hoping people will search their hearts and open their wallets, and give us a little helping hand. We just want to keep our historic cemetery a beautiful and peaceful place.”
Those who would like to assist Big Cane Baptist Church may do so by calling 318.939.2268, Rabalais at 318.939.2142 or Fogleman at 318.939.212