In June 2015, Dorsel Bibbee holds a photograph of himself as a younger man standing in a grave. Bibbee believes the photograph is from the late 1970s or early 80s, but he's no longer able to remember who took it and gave it to him. He has been digging graves in southeast Ohio for six decades.
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Dorsel Bibbee, 81, sits for a portrait at his home in Alfred, Ohio, in February 2015.
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Dorsel Bibbee works through swirling wind and snow to prep a grave site at Coolville Cemetery in Coolville, Ohio, in February 2015.
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Dorsel Bibbee sips coffee from a ceramic mug he keeps with him in his truck before going out to help dig a grave at Fairview Cemetery near Coolville, Ohio, in February 2015.
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Dorsel Bibbee finishes a day's work by unloading equipment from his truck and storing it in the Troy Township Trustees building in Coolville, Ohio, in February 2015.
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Dorsel Bibbee shows an old cemetery map from his collection at his home in Alfred, Ohio, in February 2015.
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Jimmy Putman and Dorsel Bibbee dig a grave at Fairview Cemetery in southeast Ohio in February 2015.
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Dorsel Bibbee, 81, drags a shovel back to his truck after helping dig a grave at Fairview Cemetery in 2015. In his 62 years as a gravedigger, he has worked through driving snow, howling wind, and pouring rain and has helped lay to rest three generations or more of several familes in southeast Ohio. As for what happens to us after this life, he says, "All I know is the spirit goes back to the Lord who gave it and the body back to the dust of the earth."
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Dorsel Bibbee enters the Troy Township Trustees building after having spent the afternoon helping dig a grave in February 2015.
"Been digging graves a long time," Dorsel Bibbee says from the kitchen of his log home in Alfred, Ohio."Started in '53, helping a fella down below Tuppers Plains...Vern Shields, called him Ben. I told him, I said, 'I don't know what to do' and he said 'just watch me.' So that's what I done." Bibbee pauses and then continues, "He died in '66 and I just kept on workin."
Bibbee remembers stories about the people for whom he has dug graves and remembers the conditions in which he dug for them, as well, whether it was sweltering heat, biting cold, or wind that once tore a church roof half-off. He spent the majority of his career digging in those conditions by himself and by hand, using only a shovel, mattock, spade, and pick to help lay people to rest—even after the work had become mechanized in the rest of the state.
Although he finally has accepted assistance from younger crew members and heavy machinery, the 81-year-old continues to take pride in helping ensure the graves are well-measured and the walls are smooth and straight. His commitment has made him an important part of rural southeast Ohio's communities, and it seems he's on a first-name basis with everyone who freqeunts the local Go-Mart restaurant and gas station. He's now dug graves for the parents, children, and grandchildren of several families in the area.
Dorsel Bibbee's profession centers around one of our core, shared human experiences and his dogged persistence is a reminder of what in life is fleeting and what endures.