Cemeteries are hidden treasures of the world; the workers therein—unsung heroes. Cemeteries are quiet, peaceful. Often times they are unassuming and overlooked in worth and meaning. Within the hallowed gates of a cemetery lie the markers of countless lives and their stories. Cemeteries encourage us to revere and respect those who have gone before us. They remind us to remember the past, value our present, and look towards the future. Cemeteries hold the wisdom of ages.
For generations people have entrusted their loved ones to the care and attention of cemetery workers. They trust that their deceased will be treated with love and respect. In its 148 years of existence, Highland Cemetery has become the final resting place for over 48,500 loved ones. Many men and women through the years have worked at Highland; however, one man in particular deserves special recognition and honor. For the last fifty years, Harlan Jones has driven seventy-four miles every day for work. Tom Honebrink, Highland’s General Manager, pointed out that Harlan very well may have been able to retire years ago if he had all the money he had spent on gas the past fifty years. “However it would not have mattered,” Tom asserted. “Harlan would have come every day to work anyway, because that is what Harlan does. That is who Harlan is. He shows up for work. He works hard, never complaining, and he ALWAYS does the job right.”
In his fifty years with Highland Cemetery, Harlan has only ever been late on a few rare occasions due to extreme weather or impossible traffic. In recent years Harlan has stopped fighting the elements to drive to work in the snow. Tom has insisted that he has earned the right not to risk driving in inclement weather. Despite his boss’s exempt, Harlan refuses to take such days with pay. This dedicated employee saves his vacation time and uses it for those winter days in which weather forbids travel. He will not accept special treatment and never takes advantage of the Company. “He believes in working for and earning his pay check,” stated Tom. If there’s not a task currently on Harlan’s to do list, he shows initiative and finds something to do, even if it’s as simple as walking through sections picking up sticks. During Tom’s thirty years with the Cemetery, he has never had to tell Harlan what to do if there is a slow period and there are no graves for him to dig. “Because that is what Harlan does. That is who Harlan is.”
The months of April and May are the busiest seasons for cemeteries. Easter and Mother’s Day summon many visitors to Highland. These holidays lead up to the most visited day for cemeteries—Memorial Day. Tom’s expectations during this time are high and sometimes unreasonable. Harlan is always a calming force for him. He is hard to rattle. “In my heart I always know that he won’t allow the public to be disappointed on these special days—or any days for that matter. The man cares, it shows, and is immensely appreciated.” One would think that after all of Harlan’s vigorous work he would stay home and rest on Memorial Day. On the contrary, however, Harlan and his wife, Shirley, make the seventy-four mile drive to attend Highland’s Memorial Day service every year to pay their respects to our military and our veterans. This is a man of moral fiber. A man of honor.
Highland Cemetery and all of Northern Kentucky are fortunate to have such an incredible example in the community. The patrons and dwellers of Highland are blessed to experience the compassionate impact Harlan makes. “I am here to tell you today that Harlan Jones is the best investment Highland Cemetery has ever made. He is a cemetery treasure. A gift that keeps on giving,” said Tom at a lunch celebrating Harlan and his fifty years of exemplary service. “I know I don’t tell you enough, but I am here to tell you and all here present that for the last fifty years there has been a rock, a foundation, a steady presence that we should emulate and aspire to be. And his name is Harlan Jones.”
Check back in for more Highland Cemetery blogs written by Ann Honebrink.
Honebrink, T. (2017, February 28). Personal interview; email.