Archive for Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Conflict arises in local cemetery

September 3, 2003

She wasn't surprised at her grief.

But she was surprised that her flowers, and even a metal holder that she thought would be out of the way of cemetery mowers, disappeared.

"I was just devastated," said Barbara Ledbetter, whose mother's grave is in Hubbel Hill Cemetery.

Ledbetter, and others who recently have contacted The Mirror, would like to be able to leave flowers on the graves of loved ones.

"I think it's terrible when you love your parents so much and they die and you go down there and you want to do a little something, so something will be there for them," Ledbetter said. "You try to put it in such a way that it won't affect the mowing or the care."

She was surprised, she said, that the metal pole, on which she could hang a flower pot, had been removed. She had installed the half-inch-wide pole so it was touching her mother's gravestone, and had thought it would be out of the way of lawnmowers.

A child's disappointmentM/b>

Jane Myers, who lost her son-in-law, Blaine Reed, to a vehicle accident in March, feels the anguish of her 4-year-old granddaughter, Caitlin.

"Caitlin picked out the specific purple and yellow flowers because her daddy liked purple and yellow flowers and they put them on his grave," Myers said. "The next time they were there, not only were they not there, but they were in the trash dumpster and she just went ballistic -- she thought her daddy didn't like her flowers."

That's when Myers, who now lives in Centralia, Mo., decided to address the issue. She wrote a letter to the editor that was published in July in The Mirror.

Joann Brown, treasurer of the board of directors of Hubbel Hill Cemetery, encourages people who are concerned to attend cemetery board meetings so a workable solution can be met.

Brown noted cemetery rules that forbid flowers or other decorative items, except those on the gravestones, only apply from May through September.

"The rest of the year they can put anything on it that they want," Brown said. "It's just the summer months -- it's just the mowing season that we're asking them to take them off."

Brown said it's possible that the cemetery board will consider erecting a shed where keepsakes and other items removed from graves can be stored.

But that wouldn't prevent thefts. This summer, mowers left all the shepherd's hooks in one place.

"Every one of them disappeared, and some of them had names on them," Brown said. "Someone just took them. This is the kind of stuff that goes on."

Dealing with theft

One of the shepherd's hooks that disappeared had been on the grave of Brandie Simpson, a young woman who died two years ago in a vehicle accident south of Tonganoxie. Brandie's mother, Gwen Schmitz, had personalized the shepherd's hook by painting Brandie's name and date of birth on it. Until Brandie's permanent gravestone was put in place, the shepherd's hook served as her marker.

Hoping the hook could remain, Schmitz put it as close to the gravestone as she could. But when she went there earlier this year, it was gone.

After talking to a member of the cemetery board, Schmitz learned the hooks had been pulled up and set in one spot at the cemetery. She later was told they had been stolen from that location.

"If they would have given me some warning, I would have gone up there and gotten it and brought it home," Schmitz said. "It's just a shepherd's hook, but it was her marker -- for a year that's all she had."

Schmitz said this just compounds her grief.

"The worst part is losing my daughter," Schmitz said. "It's very important to me to take things up there and for me to go up there. Everyone says she's not up there, well the child that I bore is in that casket."

Even so, Schmitz said the cemetery's regulations against objects placed at gravesites during the summer months makes sense.

Reaching a compromise

Myers suggested that perhaps relatives of those buried in the cemetery can agree to maintain the gravesites themselves.

"I'd like to make a compromise," Brown said. "But I don't think that we can give in and just say do your own thing, because I think that if we do it's going to be way out of hand. And who says they're going to go up there and mow and trim every week?"

Aside from settling conflicts, the cemetery board members have plenty of work to do, Brown said. For instance, they're trying to gather information on older graves at Hubbel Hill. Sometimes, it's necessary to make a rubbing of the gravestones to decipher the words.

"Calvin Quisenberry had no records of any burials before 1946," Brown said, explaining that earlier owners of the funeral home had inadvertently burned cemetery records.

And, she said, attempts are continually being made to identify unmarked graves.

"We've put markers up where they have never been before," Brown said.

Myers said she realizes it's a community service to serve on the cemetery boards.

"It's a thankless job. They're volunteering, they're trying to maintain the cemetery to look nice," Myers said. "I don't have a problem with that -- I just have a problem when I take flowers up there, or when my granddaughter takes flowers up there we would like them to stay."

Ed Slawson, president of Hubbel Hill's board, termed his volunteer work on the board as "the most thankless job I've ever had."

The cemetery rules are clearly posted, Slawson said.

"There are signs," Slawson said. "All they have to do is read the signs and they know they can't do that. They can't mow around all that."

Understanding the issue

Funeral director Calvin Quisenberry said the other large Tonganoxie cemetery, Maple Grove, has the same problems as Hubbel Hill. But he said he thought it seemed as if Hubbel Hill had more objects on the graves.

"I think a compromise can be reached," Quisenberry said. "I think the problem is lack of communication. The people need to become more involved. These are community cemeteries. The people on the boards are unpaid volunteers."

The unpaid cemetery board members do the dirty work -- coming in on work days to clean the cemeteries, and trying to keep gravestones in repair, he said.

"The fees are low," Quisenberry said. "In Kansas City they're paying $1,200 and up for a grave. People here are paying $250 a grave. There are people who have had them for years that paid $25 for eight graves. The cemetery is very limited in the funds that they have."

Quisenberry said he thought people were given a copy of the cemetery's rules when they purchased the gravesites. And, the rules are posted at the cemeteries.

But the biggest problem, he said, centers on lack of communication. He noted that no one attends the cemetery board meetings.

"The boards post their biannual meetings in the papers and six people show up and there's six people on the board," Quisenberry said.

And, Quisenberry added, most if not all of Hubbel Hill's board members have a vested interest in the cemetery: "They've got loved ones up there and they want to keep it up."

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