Laurel woman keeps local history alive through stories of the dead

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Story And Photos By Jaci Webb
Thursday, November 17, 2022
Judy Watson Goldsby shows off a grotto at the Catholic Cemetery that was built by Laurel Boy Scouts in the 1960s. Goldsby has written a book with the biographies of the 300-plus people buried in the Catholic Cemetery.

Judy Watson Goldsby shows off a grotto at the Catholic Cemetery that was built by Laurel Boy Scouts in the 1960s. Goldsby has written a book with the biographies of the 300-plus people buried in the Catholic Cemetery.

Judy Watson Goldsby is a storyteller.

Starting back in the 1960s when she was an editor for the Laurel High School paper, the Laurel Leaves, Goldsby has relished conducting research and sharing stories, mostly about the people of Laurel. So it is no surprise that she has written a book relating the history of all the folks buried in the Catholic Cemetery next to Laurel’s City Cemetery. The book has been on display during the month of November at St. Anthony’s Parish.

There is so much history behind the names on the headstones. But sometimes there is only a name to remember the deceased by. Such is a case with the infant graves that were discovered by former Laurel mayor Chuck Rodgers. In the 1990s, Rodgers worked with city employees using underground penetrating radar to find the unmarked graves at the City Cemetery. Then, working out of his garage, Rodgers made concrete headstones for each of those graves, most of whom were infants who died during the flu epidemic of 1918 and 1919.

On All Souls Day, which is celebrated on Nov. 2, the infant graves were honored with candles and other graves were decorated and prayed over as well. Each St. Anthony parishioner was asked to select a grave to honor, using the biographies Goldsby wrote about the deceased to find someone to pray for during the service.

The first person believed to have been buried at the Catholic Cemetery was an Italian immigrant who was killed in the Laurel railroad yards. Goldsby wrote, “It is difficult to think that this young man had no family to mourn his death, and the probability that his family in Italy never knew where or how or even when he died.”

The land for the Catholic Cemetery was donated by W.L. (William Louis) Allard and Augusta Allard. The Allards were prominent members of early Laurel and the Yellowstone Valley. William was engaged in banking, real estate, and the building of irrigation in the Laurel area. Their son, Louis Allard, became an internationally known physician specializing in orthopedics. His sister, Marie, graduated from St. Vincent’s School of Nursing and served as Dr. Allard’s nurse.

Goldsby has been conducting genealogy research for many years, and as part of that, she researched each of the people buried at the Catholic Cemetery, which numbers more than 300. One of the most impressive headstones is for Father Francis J. Shevlin, a beloved Catholic priest who helped orphaned and troubled children. “At one time, it is believed that he housed, fed and cared for about 30 boys,” Goldsby discovered through her research. “Some of the grandchildren of those boys still live here,” Goldsby noted.

One of the boys that Father Shevlin helped was Deno Gary, who is buried next to Father Shevlin, showing the impact the Laurel priest had on these lives, Goldsby pointed out.

Finding these special stories and sharing them with others is Goldsby’s gift to the community. For years, she volunteered at the Laurel Public Library getting people started on their family trees. Goldsby calls herself “an avid (almost rabid) genealogist.” Sharing the stories of those who have died keeps their names and their histories alive.

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