by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
A few weeks after making his first Communion, 8-year-old Dillard Tolbert died from injuries sustained when he was struck by a truck in Leavenworth on May 2, 1968. For 53 years, his grave at Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Lansing, went unmarked. Thanks to the generosity of donors, Dillard’s final resting place now bears a gravestone in tribute to his short but memorable life.
Msgr. Tom Tank blessed the new headstone on Sept. 25. As a recently ordained priest and assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish, Leavenworth, Father Tank had presided at Dillard’s funeral Mass and burial in 1968.
“I remember Dillard as a joyful little boy excited about his first Communion,” Msgr. Tank told family and former classmates gathered at the recent blessing. “I remember the day of the tragic accident and the funeral that followed. Dillard’s life still impacts you.”
“More than just a piece of granite, this monument is a reminder and a sacramental sign,” Msgr. Tank said. “Dillard’s life, while short, is not forgotten. This monument reminds us that death does not have the final say. Jesus told us that he is the resurrection and the life. We entrust Dillard again into the loving hands of God.”
Msgr. Tank acknowledged Father Bill McEvoy who spearheaded fundraising efforts for the gravestone. Father McEvoy was a first grader at Immaculate Conception Grade School at the time of Dillard’s death; his brother Tom was in Dillard’s second grade class.
Across the years, schoolmates periodically recalled and discussed Dillard, said Father McEvoy. His was the first death — other than possibly that of their grandparents — that several had experienced as children.
But this past May, with the marking of another anniversary of the young boy’s death, Father McEvoy decided to try to locate the young boy’s grave. He was surprised by what he learned.
“I went to the Mt. Calvary office and they gave me the coordinates,” said Father McEvoy. “But I could not find his grave. Why? There was no marker. He had never had a gravestone.”
“When I discovered that there was no marker for Dillard,” he continued, “I decided then and there to start a process to get him one.”
He started by contacting Dillard’s family, who welcomed Father McEvoy’s offer to raise funds for a headstone. Donations came from former schoolmates, friends, Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas and parishioners of St. Francis de Sales Church, Lansing.
Another former classmate of Dillard, Tim Scanlon, reflected on the young boy’s death.
“We were just kids,” he said. “For most of us, it was the first time that we knew someone who had died. It was sad. You wonder now what Dillard might have done with his life.”
Father McEvoy said that Dillard’s life and death touched the lives of his schoolmates and his family. “At the time of his death, we felt sad,” he said. “The monument was something tangible we could do now to memorialize Dillard.”
Dillard’s sister Sarah Tolbert, Leavenworth, and brother Louis Tolbert, Lawrence, were present for the ceremony. Both expressed gratitude for the beautiful monument commemorating Dillard. Other relatives and former classmates also attended.
Funds raised in excess of the monument’s expense are going to Xavier Catholic School, Leavenworth, for the religious formation of children preparing for first Communion.
It doesn’t surprise me that Fr. McEvoy went to such lengths to get this task done. I’ve known him most my life, and he is a wonderful human being. God bless him for doing this act of kindness for Tolbert family, for which I was friends with also.