Ohio Department of Mental Health CEO
Recognizes The Ridges Cemeteries
Early in 2009, Ohio Department of Mental Health CEO Sandy
Stephenson visited Athens to hold a public meeting to explain the
current budgetary and policy problems related to mental health.
While here, she asked to see the Ridges Cemeteries Project.
Committee members Greg Polzer and Tom Walker then led her and others
on a quick tour. At the cemeteries, Greg and Tom pointed out
several graves of special interest.
Director Stephenson seemed particularly
captivated by the story of Viola Rapp and Walker subsequently sent
her photos of Viola's descendants visiting her grave for the first
time ever, and suggested she visit this website and
Viola's story to learn
more. After doing so, she subsequently wrote, commenting that,
"This is incredible history. I love the look of joy on the
faces of Viola's descendants."
In the ensuing month Stephenson and NAMI Ohio CEO James Mauro began
discussing the issue of mental hospital cemetery restoration
throughout the state as a way of fighting stigma. Most such
cemeteries are in terrible shape - far worse than ours - and, so
far, only one other committee - that of Toledo - is working to
rectify this situation.
Acknowledging this problem, the ODMH did an
inventory and produced a power point to be used as the basis for
further discussion. Viola Rapp is featured in the Athens
section of that power point.
So it was great to see the interest that both ODMH and
NAMI Ohio had taken in our project. But it didn't stop there. In
May, Director Stephenson sent our committee a letter stating:
The work that you are conducting to
restore the dignity of those grounds has not gone unnoticed and
is greatly appreciated by all those who understand the struggles
and stigma caused by mental illness. You and your
organization are to be commended for the recognition and hard
work you are contributing in restoring the cemetery grounds.
In recognition of your work, and in celebration of May as Mental
Health Month, the Department would like to contribute $5,000 to
NAMI of Athens County for your continued efforts in improving
the cemeteries grounds and reclamation work.
It should be noted that this $5,000 is above and beyond
the $5,000 that ODMH started giving NAMI annually, and in perpetuity, for
work on the Cemeteries several years ago. So 2009 has been an especially
good year for our project!
(Director Stephenson's visit inspired
another reclamation project in Ohio. Read about the effort in
Appalachian Behavioral Health
Care, 100 Hospital Drive, Athens OH 45701
Phone: 740-593-7424 e-mail: