TOWN OF GUILFORD (WBNG) -- On many afternoons you can find Dale and Tina Utter, tools in hand, working to refurbish headstones in cemeteries throughout the Southern Tier and beyond.
This week it was Spencer Cemetery, nestled in a clearing in the trees on the on the banks of the Unadilla River, just over the bridge from Rockdale. Dale says he has relatives buried here dating back to the late 18th century. One descendant, Jonathan Spencer was a Revolutionary War Veteran.
"You can find stones in here all the way back prior to 1800, we've got 1795, here's 1796," Dale said.
The Mount Upton couple met back in 2013, and were married in 2015. Tina says she's been interested in cemeteries since she was five -years-old. Dale says it was meeting Tina and experiencing her passion for the subject that got him involved.
Now they say you can almost always find them hard at work, preserving the memory of those who are no longer with us. In many cases they have no living relatives to look after their memorials, so it falls on the Utters to keep their memory alive.
"Sometimes it's the only source document that these people ever existed, and when It's on the ground it's like they never were," Dale said.
Armed with a caddy and plenty of curiosity, they do everything from basic cleaning to full-on masonry repair.
"We'll clear the cemeteries, mow them, repair the stones, straighten the stones," Tina said.
On this day, they were working to repair an old stone that had broken into three pieces.
"We put it all together this morning and then mortared in the base, that's a typical repair job that we do," Dale said
It isn't just repairs that the couple is interested in, they also dive into the artisans who made the headstones.
"We especially like the old sandstone carvers from the early 1800's because the work they do is unique and each carver is different, it's folk art," she said.
Tina says their interest in carvers takes them to cemeteries all over.
"We love going to a cemetery to see what we can find, no matter where we go, even if we're on vacation," Dale said.
Another component of their work is documenting the people who were laid to rest in a given cemetery, keeping their memory alive in digital space, not just the cemetery. Tina takes the time to research their lives and publish the information on findagrave.com as well as their personal facebook page.
"If Tina is cleaning a stone, she looks at the names and the dates and she gets very interested 'who is this person, where did they live, what did they do?" Dale said.
Because Tina says, it's those who are buried in places like Spencer Cemetery who we have to thank for the communities we call home today.
"They were the early settlers to this region and I always imagine what they went through and hardships they endured and we just feel like they deserve to be remembered" Tina said.
They say they are always looking for new people to help out with the work, and are willing to train them as well. They do stress however that it's important to have proper training and a knowledge of historic materials before attempting a repair.