VINELAND – Tucked off East Landis Avenue is the graveyard of the former Training School at Vineland / Elwyn, now cloaked in vines and sheltered by aged pines.
The remains of about 170 of the facility’s residents, and a few of its employees, are buried here.
Most are commemorated in the rows of headstones. A handful have their names pressed into tin markers scattered in the grass just inside the stone wall cemetery entrance.
Recently the marker of perhaps the facility’s most well-known resident, Carol Buck, the daughter of author and humanitarian Pearl S. Buck, vanished leaving her grave unmarked.
That is about to be rectified.
A Birmingham, Alabama man, in a show of gratitude to his best-loved author, is inviting the public to a graveside ceremony of remembrance 11 am Saturday, when a permanent monument will be placed at the site.
‘How in the world can that grave be unmarked?’
Attending a New York City gathering a few years ago, David Swindal shared his admiration for Pearl Buck while speaking to a person with New Jersey ties.
“I can not tell you what beauty she has brought to my life and given the world with the marvelous literature she produced,” Swindal said, remarking on Buck’s lifelong calling “giving the world beautiful stories – it makes your heart ache to read them . ”
Buck, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, spent many years in China where the people, culture and social change she witnessed inspired her writing. In 1932, Buck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “The Good Earth.” Six years later, she received the Nobel Prize for literature.
During the conversation, talk turned to how Buck’s daughter attended school in Vineland, enrolled at a private facility focused on the care and education of those with developmental disabilities. Carol Buck, diagnosed with Phenylketonuria, resided at the Training School at Vineland / Elwyn until she died in 1992, at age 72.
Phenylketonuria is a rare inherited disorder, now treatable, that causes protein to build up in the body, potentially damaging the brain.
Swindal was dismayed to learn Carol Buck lacked a public acknowledgment of her life.
“It bothered me, I just thought how in the world can that grave be unmarked?” he said, and set about putting it right.
“I thought of how many hours, days, nights, weeks, years really the pleasure of reading Miss Buck gave to me,” Swindal said. “I thought maybe if I help get her beloved daughter’s grave marked, it is a small way of me saying, ‘Oh, thank you Miss Buck.’ “
Swindal made a call.
A shared passion for preserving history
When phone rang at the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, Patricia Martinelli answered
The society’s curator found herself speaking with someone who shared her passion in preserving history.
“He called out of the blue,” she said, of that call from Swindal about six months ago. “He explained who he was and why he was calling.”
Over the years, Martinelli and other community groups tried to maintain the sacred site. Clearing and cleaning waned due to the lack of volunteers and nature proved to be too aggressive an adversary, she said.
Earlier this year, Buck’s tin marker went missing just as plans moved forward to place a stone at the cemetery.
Teaming up with Swindal, Martinelli reached out to secure permission to place the headstone from Elwyn, that took over the management of the facility in 1981. Then the 150-acre property, that includes the cemetery, was recently sold to Prime Rock of Wayne, Pa., Who agreed to honor the agreement.
South Jersey Cemetery Restorations volunteered to help set the stone Swindal commissioned to fit in with ambiance of the cemetery, which dates back to the 1880s.
“It is a simple monument,” he said.
Swindal is driving up to deliver it. It will be his first trip to Vineland.
‘Her life must count’
Searching for long-term care for Carol, Pearl Buck enrolled her daughter at Training School at Vineland, which was the third oldest facility in the nation for the education of the developmentally disabled. It was not a restrictive program; residents did not live in dorms but in cottages throughout the grounds.
“I resolved that my child, whose natural gifts were obviously unusual, even though they were never to find expression, was not to be wasted,” Buck wrote. “In one way, if not the other, her life must count. To know that it was not wasted might assuage what could not be prevented or cured. ”.
It is reported that to cover the tuition costs, Pearl Buck pursuing novel writing.
Decades later, she would pen the “The Child That Never Grew,” a semi-autobiographical work of her experience with Carol.
Pearl Buck financially contributed to the Training School at Vineland, served on its board of trustees, and highlighted the facility’s reputation and research during her speaking engagements and television appearances.
For the love of Pearl
Swindal, 69, never crossed paths with Pearl Buck, who died March 6, 1973. She was 80.
“My only connection that I have is I discovered her work the summer after I had finished the fourth grade,” he said.
Looking through a literature book belonging to his older sister, Swindal came across a biography of Pearl Buck and information on her work “The Good Earth.”
“It fascinated me so when I was at Tuscaloosa Public Library a week or so later, I indeed found a copy of” The Good Earth, “and checked out and read it,” he said.
“Of course, much of it escaped me,” Swindal said, noting he was only 10 years old at the time.
“I could tell it was fascinating literature and just the way Miss Buck put words together,” he said. ‘one of my very favorites that I’ve read a dozen times over the years. ”
“There are passages that all I can say is, you read them and it brings you to tears, and you stop for a little bit and you read it again and it brings you to tears,” he said.
Swindal’s primary concern is that Carol Buck knows she’s not forgotten.
“I really think there is more of a connection between heaven and earth than we really realize,” said Swindal, a landscape designer. “I just hope that little Carol can realize that somebody cares, that all of us gathered there are mindful of her mark upon the world. “
Martinelli is pleased to see interest in the people who contributed to Vineland’s colorful past.
“It’s just so wonderful to see how many different stories have come to light that show contributions from different people,” she said. “I think people have become aware of the fact that there is more to history than just battles, the names of famous people and certain dates. “
The history of city is the story of its people, including Carol Buck.
“It’s just the idea that she’s less anonymous than she unfortunately was for most of her life,” Martinelli said. “And it’s all because of one man, who was a fan of her mother’s work.”
If you go:
Remembering Carol Buck
When: 11 am Saturday, April 9. Rain or shine.
Where: Former Training School at Vineland / Elwyn property. Pull in the first driveway east of the Wawa entrance. Drive past the front of the Maxham Cottage, the main building with rounded towers. Take the driveway on the right, which will wind its way to the field adjacent to the cemetery.
Deborah M. Marko covers breaking news, public safety, and education for The Daily Journal, Courier-Post and Burlington County Times. Got a story idea? Call 856-563-5256 or email [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @dmarko_dj Instagram: deb.marko.dj Help support local journalism with a subscription.