For the past 53 years, thousands of people have bequeathed their bodies to the University of Kentucky College of Medicine to further medical training and research.
Sunday afternoon, about 50 first-year UK medical students returned the favor, raking leaves and planting trees and shrubs to beautify Section 36 at Lexington Cemetery, where 2,300 to 2,500 of those donors are buried.
After four sweaty hours of hard work, hands that soon might be delivering babies and performing surgery were black with dirt and mud.
"Trying to give back to these people is the least we can do after all that they did for us," said Ethan Ritter of Pendleton County, community service co-chair for the medical school class.
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"We all hope that we won't just have an M.D. after our names after medical school, but we'll be people who actually care about where we are and what we're doing," he said. "There's no better place to get started than in your first year of med school."
Working with the students — and sweating through his shirt while digging holes for trees — was Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn.
Ginn came up with the idea to beautify Section 36 in his role as coordinator of UK's Body Bequeathal Program. The program dates to 1960, when the UK medical school was opening.
"Dr. Harold Parks, the second chairman of the department of anatomy and neurobiology, knew a place would be needed to bury many of those who bequeathed their bodies," Ginn said. "So, he met with the directors of the Lexington Cemetery, and they designated all of Section 36 as the University of Kentucky Section."
Ginn said individuals who bequeath their bodies to UK may be buried in Section 36 or interred elsewhere, if they choose. Since the program began, about half have been placed in Section 36. All were cremated, he said.
"All of those buried here are individuals who helped advance medical science through the study and research of their bodies," Ginn said.
Some UK medical students worked to beautify Section 36 "many, many years ago," Ginn said, but time passed, and the area needed some attention.
He approached members of the 2013 first-year medical school class this fall about organizing to work on the cemetery section.
Class members raised $300, which the anatomy and neurobiology department matched. Glynn Young's Landscaping & Nursery Center in Nicholasville provided shrubs and trees at half price.
Sweat equity from the future doctors took care of the labor.
"Everybody was excited and willing to jump in and help," said class community service co-chair Ellen Daly of Louisville.
Lexington's Lindsay Williams, intramural chair of the med school class, said students appreciated the service that those buried in Section 36 rendered.
"I'm just floored by their generosity," she said. "There are tons of doctors and health professionals today that have reaped the benefits of being able to study the cadavers over the years."