BMECRO partners with UF to restore cemetery

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ARCHER, Fla. (WCJB)-- A decades old organization in North Central Florida is working with the University of Florida to maintain an historic landmark.

Archer native Roberta Lopez is the project coordinator for the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery Restoration Organization and she wants the community's support to preserve its history.

"I've been here so many times now that I feel like it's home," Lopez said. "I feel like everybody here are my relatives."

BMECRO was established by Lopez's sister, Clyde Williams, in 1999.

The organization is teaming up with UF to help preserve the history of those identified in the cemetery and to repair the damages left by Hurricane Irma.

"What we've done is gone through the site and identified with red markers, white markers, and kind of marker," Lopez said. "Some of these stones need some type of repair. They've even fallen off of their base or they're leaning."

The organization's goal is to receive funding to create a monument, repair headstones, and to build a fence around the cemetery to ensure it's protection.

UF will submit an application to the Florida Division of Historical Resources small matching grant program for $25,000.

"This is part of her sister's legacy," said Morris Hylton III, UF's Historic, Preservation Program Director. "I think it's important for her. Both in terms of history for the state, and the city of Archer and Alachua County but also for her family."

Lopez said she wants the monument to have the dates of when they were born and when they died.

"This is what we have to do," Lopez said. "We have to talk to our families. We have to find out from them ,especially the older ones. Who's here? That's most important."

She said the untold stories of those identified need to be remembered.

"We have a number of slaves here," Lopez said. "There are people who were born in the 1820s, 30s, 40s, and 50s."

There are also WWI and WWII veterans at the cemetery.

"That's why it's so important for us to get that grant," Lopez said. "It's so important for the volunteers to help us. We need to protect this. We need to preserve it for our children and our children's children."