Rebuilt out of monumental respect

Published March 3, 2007

ZEPHYRHILLS - When Samuel Richards started cleaning up Oakside Cemetery in the mid 1920s, he didn't know anyone buried there. He did it out of respect for the dead.

The stone mason and first building inspector for the city of Zephyrhills put up a fence with a brick gate and tidied up the grounds.

But in 1939, his daughter, Bernice Richards Tarbox, who was in her early 30s, died of pneumonia. To deal with his grief, he built a three-tiered stone monument and placed it in a main intersection of the cemetery.

Over the years, members of the Richards family moved across the country or died. Richard's grandson, Jack Emmett, now 66, moved from Zephyrhills and worked as a police officer in upstate New York.

He visited his hometown in the mid 1980s but noticed something missing: his grandfather's monument.

"He built that in memory of her," Emmett said.

Over the years, Emmett mulled over what his grandfather's reaction would have been to find the monument torn down. He asked around to find out who approved its removal, but he got no answers.

In 2003, he decided he would do something about it and started to talk to Zephyrhills friends about getting the project off the ground. In 2005, he sent a letter to City Manager Steve Spina along with an old postcard showing a picture of the monument. Spina wrote back, telling Emmett the city would rebuild it.

The new monument is a slightly larger version of the original, built with the same material - Florida field stone - but with contemporary building technology, such as steel reinforcement, said Shane LeBlanc, the city's public works superintendent. It was constructed based on old photographs.

Emmett and his wife, Jean, are visiting from New Berlin, N.Y., for a dedication ceremony that was held Friday. Emmett said his grandfather, whose stonework can still be found on many Zephyrhills houses, would be proud of the monument.

"I was just filling his shoes," Emmett said. "Trying to right a wrong."

Gina Pace can be reached at 352 521-6518 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6518. Her e-mail address is gpace@sptimes.com.