Although there’s still some work to be done, Steve Hull said he’s extremely pleased with Memorial Cemetery’s expansion.
“It’s turned out, I think, better than we’d hoped, as good as we’d hoped,” he said. “And we’re all anxious to see the grass in and the graves up.”
After more than 15 years in development, Memorial Cemetery is putting the finishing touches on its recent expansion, which added four acres of land on its east side.
The land features a newly built gazebo featuring columbarium niches for cremation urns, as well as a new entrance into the cemetery from 23rd Street.
Previously, the land housed a trailer park and old house that Hull, president of the Memorial Cemetery Association, called “unsightly,” as it was not well kept up.
“We used to have a lot of vandalism from the people that would come over and take things from the cemetery, leave things in the cemetery, have marshmallow roasts in the cemetery, things like that,” he said. “It even got to the point where we used to have sewage problems coming from over there where the septic tanks would fill up.”
As the neighboring land made it difficult to sell lots on the east side, Hull said the cemetery obtained a land agreement from the owner, who wanted at least 10 years to keep the park going.
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“So the 10 years went by, and then we continued for about another five, six years,” he said. “And then we pulled the trigger, and it’s gone from an unsightly point of entry to the town to a much better looking place now.”
The project was jumpstarted by an anonymous donor, who agreed to buy the land for the cemetery.
“We were fortunate to receive an inheritance and be one the beneficiaries of an estate just about the exact time we started, which greatly helped us move that forward and allowed us to move faster than what we were originally anticipating,” Hull said.
Work on the newly acquired land began in spring of 2020 with its cleaning and the removal of 30 to 40 trees. In the fall, a road was added that connected to the main path and provided a small parking area to the side.
The gazebo’s construction started in December and will house 196 of the nearly 600 niches for cremation urns in the area.
“That’s where probably 50% of our interments are now, are in cremations and niches, and it probably will go up,” Hull said. “So we wanted to do something proactive, we wanted to make it a nice-appearing point and a point that focused on niches.”
While the gazebo is still in the process of getting its roof finished, Hull said it features lights and a neighboring wall between it and the residential land to the east.
“Next, this fall when it cools down a little, we’ll kill the rest of the weeds and grass out there that doesn’t look so nice now, and then we’ll plant grass,” he said. “And by this winter, we should have a nice-looking lawn there and it should start shaping up.”
Part of that landscaping will include adding a line of trees on the east plotline between the cemetery and the Dollar General.
Additional trees will be placed in designated areas once the plot layout is set up and will include mostly flat gravestones for easier maintenance.
“Rich Wegner is our manager, and he and his son who work for us have done a lot in getting this laid out and brought to fruition,” Hull said. “We hired an architectural firm to help us lay out that area initially and did some preliminary designs, so that’s kind of what we’ve gone off.”
Hull said the area will also include benches and a table. He said the cemetery has also purchased land to the northeast for a potential future plot site.
Office Manager Jeanette Stinemates said the new plots will likely open next spring, while the niches are now available for purchase.
“Nameplates are on some of them that aren’t there yet,” she said. “People seem to really like the area, they think it’s pretty.”
Hull said he’s received comments from members of the community about how happy they are to see the expansion nearing completion.
“It wasn’t easy, but we’re pleased with how it’s turning out,” he said. “We’re very happy with how well the wall, gazebo and roads have turned out.”
Stinemates said she was thankful for the work of the Memorial Cemetery Association in getting the expansion ready for the cemetery.
“We’re very pleased with it, and the people in the town seem to be pleased with it,” she said. “They really like what’s out there.”