City administrator Tommy Turney and wife Carrie join Old Runnels cemetery board.
H.A. Thomsom donated the Old Runnels Cemetery land in the early 1880s and it has been the final resting place of generations of Runnels County families.
Almost 40 years later, in April of 1926, the Old Runnels Cemetery Association was formed. The cemetery is all that remains of Runnels City, the town that was the first county seat, harkening to the deep history of Runnels County. The association has been a constant in overseeing the operation and interring of county residents, including the first Runnels County judge, Sylvester Adams, (March 9, 1834 – February 3, 1889), who served from March 1880 to November of 1888.
The association is a 3-member board that is presided over by longtime association president Linda Byler. Jerri and Milford Wiley served on the board for many years and recently stepped down to retire.
New city administrator Tommy Turney and his wife Carrie have stepped in to fill those big shoes, “This cemetery pretty much encompasses the history of this area, from the 1800s until now,” Tommy Turney says as we walk among the graves in the cemetery.
Officially, Tommy is now the vice-president of the association and Carrie is the treasurer/secretary. Being afforded the opportunity to care for interred loved ones is a significant honor and the Turneys take it seriously. People visiting the graves and memorials don’t want to wade through knee-high grass or fight off weeds to pay their respect to loved ones. The Old Runnels Cemetery has been well cared for over the years and walking through it you see visible that those who have been entrusted with its care are worthy of that honor. But there is some work yet to be done.
The Turneys are already showing that they are worthy of the trust placed in their hands, “Tommy and I have always had an interest in cemeteries and the history that you learn from them. We’ve spent a lot of time at Old Runnels after my grandmother passed, walking around looking at all of the older graves. The oldest grave out there is next to her grave and our son is connected to it because he has been leaving a flower on it since he was 5 years old, and he still leaves a flower on there to this day,” Carrie tells me as she describes the impact the cemetery has on their family.
It’s not only the older graves that people pay respect to, it’s also the more recently deceased heroes that are honored such as Trent William Ueckert, a Ballinger teen who passed away from a rare form of cancer after a long and valiant fight and U.S. Army specialist William Justin Byler who was killed on Halloween 2005 by an IED in Mahmudiyah, Iraq while serving in 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky. Veterans of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam all the way up to the most recent wars rest there. The cemetery is the permanent resting place for five or more generations of some of the oldest families in the county. Carrie says that caring for those and others are something they are looking forward to, “We are excited to take over the roles and becoming part of the history associated with the cemetery. We are looking into getting it designated a Historic Texas Cemetery by the Texas Historical Commission.”
Being granted that designation by the Texas Historical Commission grants some benefits to the cemetery such as:
Records the cemetery location and boundaries in the county deed records as a historically dedicated cemetery worthy of preservation. Helps preserve cemeteries by alerting present and future landowners of the presence of this important historical resource on their property. Documents the cemetery's current conditions through photographs and maps, details that may be necessary for emergency management in cases such as vandalism, fire, or other natural disasters. Is a prerequisite for applying for an Official Texas Historical Marker for the cemetery. According to the Texas Historical Commission, “A cemetery is eligible for designation if it is at least 50 years old and is deemed worthy of recognition for its historical associations. The very nature of a cemetery being a landmark of a family’s or community’s presence is considered to validate the criteria of historical associations. Any individual, organization, or agency may submit a request for designation.”
Carrie says with a chuckle that one challenge is already presenting itself, “The challenge I’m currently having is learning how to read the map.”
Carrie also spoke of how she and Tommy came to join to cemetery association board, “I had asked several years ago about how to join the board and then the kids and I left to join Tommy overseas. We had gone out on a Sunday and I was saying that I wanted to check about getting back on the board now that we are stateside. The next day Mrs. Wiley went to his office to talk to Tommy and he asked her what I needed to do to join the association. She told him they (The Wileys) were wanting to retire and hand it over to someone and would we be interested in that. Tommy called me and I said, “Yes!!” I’m so excited about getting to do this and I’ve been doing some research to see what all I can and can’t do and to have people take an interest out there.”
One of the ideas that the Turneys are already working on is constructing a veteran’s memorial out there, “We need to honor the veterans interred out there,” Carrie says as she discusses various ideas for the memorial. Tommy says that one thing they want to do is help clear away some of the brush and other vegetation that has grown up in some of the graves, “The cemetery is well cared for but it really needs some tidying up and maybe we can get the public involved in that one day. Just come out here and help us get some attention on some of the areas that need it.”
One positive for the Turneys joining the association is that they are stepping into positions where their predecessors did a great job of performing their entrusted duty. They aren’t stepping into mismanaged positions and trying to rectify mistakes, they are stepping in to continue the efforts and carry on the legacy of those that have gone before them. The Turneys are working towards honoring the trust that has been put in them as they honor those interred in that hallowed ground.