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Man who loved bay memorialized in reef ball


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Man who loved Bay is memorialized in ''reef ball''

These ''reef balls'' made by Sea Search of Virginia can last hundreds of years and will help attract marine life to the artificial reefs they'll form in the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. Photo by Chris Tyree / The Virginian-Pilot.


NORFOLK, Va. _ The family of the deceased gathered around a concrete truck. The daughter pulled out a baggie containing cremated ashes.

"Ready, Dad?" she whispered into the bag.

With that farewell, Jennie Rogers Moore emptied her father's remains into a plain white pail, then mixed his ashes with a slew of wet concrete.

This was the scene recently at a new business in Norfolk, Sea Search of Virginia. In a parking lot off Church Street, John Grayson Rogers, an Eastern Shore fisherman and conservationist, became the first Virginian to be poured into a round mold and made into an "eternal reef ball."

In about a month, when the gray slurry fully hardens, this 1,600-pound sphere resembling a giant whiffle ball will be dropped to the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. It will become part of an existing artificial reef near Nassawadox, where Rogers lived most of his 76 years, and will attract fish, oysters, marine growth, scuba divers _ and the occasional well-wisher.

"It's a little sad," his widow, Virginia, said after the mold was set. "But it's what he really wanted. That's the happy part."

Eternal reef balls are a modern alternative to cemeteries _ with a green twist. They are favored mostly by avid divers, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts who want to be "buried at sea" as well as contribute something to the marine environment they loved.

An Atlanta-based company, Eternal Reefs, started mixing human ashes and environmentally friendly concrete in 1998. About 125 memorial balls have been created since then, sunk mostly off Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

Until recently, none existed in Virginia.

"We're giving people something that's living, that's growing, that the family can come and visit," said company president Don Brawley, who attended the inaugural pouring Thursday.

The balls cost between $850 and $3,200 each, depending on the size. The Rogers family picked one of the larger models, a "pallet ball," 3 feet high and 4 feet wide.

A gold plaque was fixed to the side of the ball in Rogers' name, and each family member left a handprint in the top of wet concrete mix.

Company representatives eagerly fetched paper towels and water to wash off residual concrete stuck to their hands. "Oh, it's all right," said daughter Jennie. "Dad used to make us bait our own hooks; we're used to this."

When he knew he was going to die from kidney cancer earlier this year, Rogers told Jennie that he wanted his body "put in a potato sack, tied to a cinder block and tossed into the bay somewhere."

Moore reminded him that this type of burial was unhealthy and probably illegal. But when she read an article about eternal reef balls, she knew she'd found the answer.

Moore said her father was especially pleased with the idea because, as a member of a state recreational fishing advisory board, he had urged greater funding for artificial reefs for years.

He often fished near a reef in the bay, and once persuaded the Navy not to blow up a pile of concrete blocks near the Eastern Shore because they were such a good fishing spot.

Reef balls were invented about 10 years ago as a way to restore coral reefs disappearing around the globe. The Reef Ball Development Group was launched in Florida and has since sunk nearly 500,000 spheres in oceans and freshwaters in 40 countries, said president Todd Barbor, the founder and company president.

Sea Search of Virginia is the only outlet certified by Barbor's group to make and sell reef balls in the state. Fran and Josh Loney opened their business in Norfolk in April, and have constructed 30 balls for state reef projects so far.

Loney said the company is working with a Girl Scout troop to build a ball, and hopes to persuade the city of Norfolk to use reef balls to control shoreline erosion.

She thinks eternal reef balls have a good chance of catching on in Hampton Roads, given the large Navy presence here and the close ties between residents and the water.


Photos: Fulfillling a wish
The Virginian-Pilot
© November 22, 2002

John Grayson Rogers' widow, Virginia, holds a plaque that was attached to the ''reef ball'' containing his ashes. Before he died, he told relatives that he was happy his ashes would help reef-building. Photos by Chris Tyree / The Virginian-Pilot.

* * *

Relatives of John Grayson Rogers leave handprints in the ''reef ball'' containing his ashes. Rogers, an Eastern Shore fisherman and conservationist, is the first Virginian memorialized in such a way.

* * *

Family members of Grayson, from left, Jennie Rogers Moore, Virginia Rogers, Lynne Rogers and Patrick Rogers, place their hands on the ''reef ball,'' a concrete ball that will become part of an artificial reef.

* * *

The Virginian-Pilot is published in Norfolk.

Information from: The Virginian-Pilot


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