Congratulations to Autistic Wonderboy our featured volunteer of the month for August, 2021! We’d like to recognize David for all his work but especially for working so diligently to fulfill photo requests for others. He has helped the community by fulfilling over 10,000 photo requests! His parents have been supportive of his efforts for years.
David’s interests vary widely. Traveling is top on his list as well as spending time with family and friends, dining out and going on day trips. He’s involved with an ice skating team and has received the top sportsmanship award twice in the Montgomery County Special Olympics. He has his Associate’s degree and currently works as a lab technician at a local university. He enjoys basketball and baseball games and is also heavily involved in community theater.
David ran across Find a Grave® in 1999, when he was 14 years old. He had a special interest in the Marx Brothers and other comedic actors from that time. While randomly searching Groucho Marx on Google, he was led to his Find a Grave memorial. His curiosity was piqued and he wanted to see other celebrity graves. David and his Dad shared a mutual interest in history and curiosity about the graves. They took day trips to find famous and notable graves in Philadelphia. Other family members, living in Washington, D.C. helped him find notable graves in cemeteries near them, such as Arlington National Cemetery, and he became interested in learning and knowing more about American history and visiting the graves of U.S. Presidents.
David’s Dad helped him appreciate graving during his early years as a Findagrave contributor. As an example, his Dad’s father, Charles P. Welsh, is buried at Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey. Every year on Father’s Day and Veteran’s Day, they would go to Beverly National Cemetery, pay their respects to him, and then David would fulfill any photo requests that were at the cemetery. David knows that despite his difficulties, his father always believed that he could accomplish whatever he put his mind to. The years went by and so did the family vacations full of visits to cemeteries and notable graves. Here are a few that David told us about.
“Back in 2009, we went to Springfield, Illinois, to see how the city was celebrating the bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Among the various Lincoln sites we saw, such as the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, etc., we went to Oak Ridge Cemetery to see Lincoln’s grave. On another family road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we first stopped off at the boyhood home of Fred Rogers in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Aside from seeing a museum dedicated to his life and TV work at Saint Vincent College, we also payed our respects to Mr. Rogers at Latrobe’s Unity Cemetery.
The last family trip we did when my Dad was still alive was the summer of 2016 when we flew to California. One of the sites they saw for my benefit was the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum — and after I toured the museum, I did pay my respects to President and Mrs. Reagan. We saw a lot of the cemeteries in the Los Angeles area that has celebrity graves, preferably Mount Sinai Memorial Park, and two of the Forest Lawn Memorial Parks — Glendale and Hollywood Hills.”
This is just a few of the trips he and his parents planned to visit graves and other places of interest to him. He has created spreadsheets and graphs showing the cities where he visited and photographed. This way he has a visual of “cities where I did the best/most work vs. where I needed to pick up the pace.” Over the past year and a half, as the pandemic caused things to shut down, David started dealing with some anxiety issues. Being stuck at home was difficult and he missed seeing his friends and going places. He found that fulfilling photos requests helped him to relieve personal stress. By the time the year 2020 ended, he had fulfilled 1,551 Photo Requests and so far has fulfilled 1,315 Photo Requests in the year 2021. He’s grateful for the thank you notes that he has received from the Find a Grave community. He mentioned that he’s had a lot of help from cemetery staff and others who are supportive of this work. He often fulfills photo requests at Mount Sharon Cemetery in Springfield, Pennsylvania but one day he found the office closed due to the pandemic. It was then that he got creative.
“Initially believing (as the rest of the state did) it would be two weeks before everything would be back to normal, I waited (patiently). When the pandemic kept going, and I had a growing back log of photo requests for Mount Sharon, I decided to tape a handwritten note to the front door of the office with the people I was looking for at this cemetery. (My logic was that SOMEONE would have to come to the office to, at the very least, retrieve and tend to the mail that would be piling up outside the door.) The following day as I was wallowing in my depression and anxieties of leaving the house, someone at Mount Sharon texted me the plot info I was looking for! Feeling now that I had a purpose and a reason for leaving the house, I bolted to my car and drove to Mount Sharon Cemetery! And finding everyone who was on my list was the best feeling I could have that day! To this day, the office is still closed due to the ongoing pandemic. But, since that day in April 2020, every time I had a list of Photo Requests I wanted to fulfill at Mount Sharon Cemetery, I would do what I did that one day: tape my list on the front door, and wait for someone from Mount Sharon to text me back.
It’s great that I’m a Find a Grave contributor, that my work helps a lot of people who submit photo requests, and that my work finally caught up to me that I became the Find a Grave Volunteer of the Month (and, to a certain extent, that my work is letting people know what people on the Autism Spectrum can accomplish if they put their mind to it); but I also want to make the effort to not let my work with Find a Grave consume or define my life. When I pass away, I do not want my epitaph to read, “Find a Grave’s Autistic Wonderboy,” let alone how others remember me as. By the time my life ends, I want to make sure that people remember me as someone who knew that life was worth living, that I made every effort to make the best of it as I could, and that I made every effort to be successful in what I put my mind to despite being on the Autism Spectrum.
To those reading this who have Aspergers, have Autism, or are on the spectrum, if you have a passion for something, and those around you don’t understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish – even to the point where they try to talk you out of it – just keep doing what you do. And if you love it, do it twice as much. When you become a superstar at it, people will notice you, what you can accomplish, and what you overcame in the process. This is coming from the person who spent a majority of his time for the last decade fulfilling Find a Grave photo requests – and ended up being Find a Grave’s Volunteer of the Month. Just don’t give up. No matter how much I strive with the Find a Grave photo requests, I remember the Special Olympics Athlete Oath: Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Our accolades to you for your extraordinary work in cemeteries! We are so glad that you are a Find a Grave member and appreciate all your efforts in recording and memorializing those that have passed.
We welcome your suggestions for Volunteer of the Month. If you’d like to submit a volunteer for consideration in future months, please send an email with details of their work to firstname.lastname@example.org.