Volunteer of the Month – Sarah Swartz

Not knowing her own personal history led our volunteer of the month, Sarah Swartz, into a passion for history, genealogy and cemeteries. Sarah grew up in and around Kansas City, MO, splitting her time evenly between city and country life. Having been adopted as an infant, she knew nothing of her background, which led to her fascination with genealogy and piecing together family histories.

Sarah attended a community college in her late 20s to gain stability in her life. It did that and much more. She spent the next seven years studying anthropology, archaeology, anatomy, paleobiology, and geology at the University of Missouri and Indiana University. She participated in archaeological digs at Angel Mounds in southern Indiana and Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. 

Having since left academic life, Sarah decided that it was time to give back. She met our Director of Historic Preservation, who encouraged her to fill-out a volunteer form, which she did. But why a cemetery? Sarah has always been drawn to cemeteries since her youth. They are microcosms of our life history, reflecting much more than just death, but also birth, family structure, socioeconomic status, religion, technology, and culture. 

One of her favorite paleoanthropological examples is “The Old Man of La Chappelle.” His skeleton was found relatively intact for being 60,000 years old. It showed significant signs of wear and degeneration during his lifetime, with numerous healed injuries that would have required some degree of community care. When his life ended, evidence suggests his community buried him. Caring for our community in life and death is a hallmark of modern humanity.

Sarah began her volunteer work with us by helping with our tombstone cleanings. She is a regular at all cleaning days, specializing in the fragile marble stones we have on site. To add to our knowledge, Sarah also investigates the background on all the people whose stones she has cleaned. We’ve been able to use these histories on our social media to further the history of the site.

In addition to this, Sarah has helped with special events — and recently — started the docent training class. With her unique interest in geology, tombstones and education, we have been encouraging Sarah to create activities for our educational tours, a task she has leaned into and is already helping with our Home School Day in early October, and with a high school class studying death statistics.  

One of Sarah’s favorite quotes is from neuroscientist David Eagleman:

“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future when your name is spoken for the last time.” Sarah’s restoration and research makes that third moment a bit further away for some buried here at Crown Hill Cemetery.

If you would like to volunteer at Crown Hill Cemetery and Arboretum, check out our website for more details or to find the application.