Sharon A. Walker

As an eight-year member of the Boone County 4-H, Reece Thompson is known for inspiring younger kids to join the program. He’s also a three-year member of the United Way Youth as Resources Team and a veteran of Habitat for Humanity building projects in Boone County. And he’s only in high school.

But it’s Thompson’s Eagle Scout project – the capstone to a 12-year commitment to the Boy Scouts – that really demonstrates this young man’s dedication to community service.

Last January, Thompson, a senior at Western Boone High School, discovered a neglected cemetery near his home that dates back to the mid-19th century, just after the Civil War. Overgrown with brush, the headstones were barely visible. After some investigation, he discovered it was a historic cemetery for African Americans in the farming community of Thorntown. Known as the “colored cemetery,” it represented an important part of Indiana history, yet it was abandoned and largely forgotten.

Working with local volunteers, experts at local and state historical associations and geological surveyors at Ball State University, Thompson was able to restore the cemetery. The compelling story led others to help, including donations from Ball State professors and students who helped them find the location of graves that did not have visible markers.

“It was life-changing,” he said. “People stopped by the side of the road to ask what we were doing. Some of them even joined the effort. I felt like I was making a difference.”

Thompson says his father is among the most important influences on his desire to be involved in service to others. After a successful engineering career, his father pursued a graduate degree in nonprofit leadership at IUPUI and is now looking to work full-time with Habitat for Humanity. His entire family has been very supportive of his commitment.

“You would never imagine now that there was a black community in Thorntown. Everyone who goes to my high school is Caucasian,” Thompson said. “The legacy of this African American community has been forgotten. To be part of bringing it back – to restore some dignity – has been very meaningful.”