Pearl S. Buck’s daughter had an unmarked grave. Then a fan intervened.

VINELAND – Nestled on East Landis Avenue is the cemetery of the former Vineland/Elwyn Training School, now covered in vines and sheltered by weathered pine trees.

The remains of approximately 170 of the facility’s residents and a few of its employees are interred here.

Most are commemorated in rows of headstones. A handful have their names pressed onto pewter markers strewn across the grass just inside the stone-walled cemetery entrance.

Recently, the marker of perhaps the facility’s best-known resident, Carol Buck, the daughter of author and humanitarian Pearl S. Buck, went missing, leaving her grave unmarked.

This is about to be rectified.

A Birmingham, Alabama man, in gratitude to his beloved author, invites the public to a memorial service at the cemetery at 11 a.m. Saturday, when a permanent monument will be placed at the site.

“How the hell can this grave be trivialized?” »

At a rally in New York a few years ago, David Swindal shared his admiration for Pearl Buck while addressing someone with New Jersey ties.

“I can’t tell you what beauty she brought to my life and gave to the world with the wonderful literature she produced,” Swindal said, noting Buck’s lifelong calling “to give the world great stories – it hurts the heart to read them.”

Buck, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, spent many years in China where the people, culture and social changes she witnessed inspired her writing. In 1932 Buck received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Good Earth”. Six years later, she received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

During the chat, the conversation turned to how Buck’s daughter attended school in Vineland, enrolled in a private facility focused on the care and education of people with developmental disabilities. Carol Buck, who had phenylketonuria, resided at the Vineland/Elwyn Training School until her death in 1992, aged 72.

Phenylketonuria is a rare, now treatable, inherited condition that causes protein buildup in the body, which can damage the brain.

Swindal was dismayed to learn that Carol Buck had no public acknowledgment in her life.

“It bothered me, I just thought how the hell can this grave be unmarked?” he said, and he set about arranging things.

“I thought of how many hours, days, nights, weeks, years it has given me the pleasure of reading Miss Buck,” Swindal said. me saying, ‘Oh, thank you Miss Buck.’ “

Swindal made a call.

A shared passion for the preservation of history

When the phone rang at the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, Patricia Martinelli answered

The society curator found herself talking with someone who shared her passion for 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 have attempted to maintain the sacred site. Land clearing and cleanup declined due to a lack of volunteers and nature proved to be an overly aggressive adversary, she said.

Earlier this year, Buck’s pewter marker went missing just as plans moved forward to place a stone at the cemetery.

Patricia Martinelli, Curator of the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, stands near the site of the former Vineland/Elwyn Cemetery Training School where Carol Buck's remains are interred.  The headstone is missing, but will be replaced with a headstone provided by David Swindal, fan of author Pearl Buck, Carol's mother.

Working with Swindal, Martinelli sought permission to place the headstone from Elwyn, who took over management of the facility in 1981. Then the 150-acre property, which 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 lay the stone commissioned by Swindal to fit the feel of the cemetery, which dates back to the 1880s.

“It’s a simple monument,” he said.

Swindal drives up to deliver it. This will be his first trip to Vineland.

“His life must count”

Seeking long-term care for Carol, Pearl Buck enrolled her daughter in the Vineland Training School, which was the nation’s third-oldest facility for the education of people with developmental disabilities. It was not a restrictive program; the residents did not live in dormitories but in cottages spread throughout the grounds.

“I decided that my child, whose natural gifts were obviously unusual, even if they were never to find expression, should not be wasted,” Buck wrote. “One way, if not the other, his life must matter. Knowing that he was not wasted could soothe what could not be avoided or healed.

Pearl S. Buck

It is reported that to cover tuition, Pearl Buck pursues writing novels.

Decades later, she would write “The Kid Who Never Grown Up,” a semi-autobiographical work of her experience with Carol.

Pearl Buck contributed financially to the Vineland Training School, served on its board of trustees, and highlighted the institution’s reputation and research in speaking engagements and television appearances.

For the Love of Pearl

Swindal, 69, never crossed paths with Pearl Buck, who died on March 6, 1973. She was 80 years old.

“My only connection I have is that I found out about her work the summer after I finished fourth grade,” he said.

While browsing through a literature book belonging to his older sister, Swindal came across a biography of Pearl Buck and information about her work “The Good Earth.”

"The good ground" by Pearl S. Buck

“It fascinated me, so when I was at the Tuscaloosa Public Library about a week later, I did indeed find a copy of ‘The Good Earth,’ I checked it out and read it,” a- he declared.

“Of course, a lot of it escaped me,” Swindal said, noting he was only 10 at the time.

“I could tell it was fascinating literature and just the way Miss Buck put the words together,” he said. “It made me want to know more about Miss Buck’s work, and then I think the next book I read was ‘Peony’, one of my favorites that I’ve read about a dozen times over the years.”

“There are passages that all I can say is you read them and it makes you cry, and you kinda stop and you read it again and it makes you cry,” he said. .

Swindal’s main concern is that Carol Buck knows she is not forgotten.

“I really think there are more connections between heaven and earth than we really realize,” said Swindal, a landscape designer. mark the world.”

Martinelli is happy to see the interest in people who have contributed to Vineland’s colorful past.

“It’s been so wonderful to see how many different stories have come to light that show the contributions of different people,” she said. “I think people have come to realize that there is more to history than just battles, names of famous people and certain dates.”

The history of the town is the history of its people, including Carol Buck.

“It’s just the idea that she’s less anonymous than she unfortunately has been for most of her life,” Martinelli said. “And all because of one man, who was a fan of his mother’s work.”

If you are going to:

Remembering Carol Buck

When: 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 9. Good weather, bad weather.

Where: Former training school on the Vineland/Elwyn property. Pull into the first alley east of the Wawa entrance. Walk past Maxham Cottage, the main building with rounded towers. Take the path on the right which will wind up 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. Do you have 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.