MOUNT VERNON — Visiting a cemetery is often a kind of bittersweet experience. It helps a little that the grounds are kept neat and trimmed and looking good. This can be a daunting task for those charged with the upkeep and maintenance of the grounds of the cemetery.
Mound View Cemetery is one of the largest in the county at about 41 acres. It is owned and maintained by the city of Mount Vernon.
“We try to get through the cemetery on a weekly basis,” said Debbie Briscoe, Mound View foreman. “We start on one side of the cemetery and work our way through until we get to the other side of the cemetery. And then we start all over again.”
Briscoe said that in addition to the mowing, city employees do all of the trimming around the tombstones, a time-consuming job. There is also an open field area the maintenance crew works on during the week. A stream running through the cemetery is also maintained.
“And we pick up the trash,” she said. “That’s a big thing. We also do any kind of setting up for the tombstones that get knocked over. That doesn’t usually happen unless we have a rash of vandalism. We also pick up tree debris, mostly limbs and twigs. But anything major is done by a company we call in.”
Briscoe said routine maintenance done on the cemetery’s equipment is done in-house.
“We do most of it ourselves,” she explained. “But if we need major repairs we send that out.”
Tombstone repairs are also part of the routine. Briscoe said some minor work is done in-house but most work required on tombstones is done by a monument company.
This kind of an operation is costly, and Briscoe said Mound View is relatively fortunate to have the resources of the City of Mount Vernon behind it. Part of its funding comes through city sources; the rest comes from outside the city.
“Our money comes from [city] income tax revenues,” Briscoe said. “The rest comes from our services charges. That is what we charge for grave openings ad closings and that type of thing.”
Mount Vernon Memorial Garden is a private cemetery and uses its own maintenance crew to take care of its grounds.
“We have a staff of two full-time employees and one part-time,” said Howard Purdy of the cemetery’s maintenance staff. “There’s not a day goes by that we don’t have something to do.”
Memorial Gardens has about 27 acres and 1,500 markers to take care of.
“Some people think it’s just mowing,” Purdy said. “but there’s lots more to it than that. We trim with the weed whip around the markers and spray and keep the lawn looking good. And then there are the burials. We open and close all the graves. We do about 150 each year.”
Most townships take care of cemetery maintenance in house, but don’t have the budget to do much more than mowing.
“We are responsible for 2 1/2 cemeteries,” said Brennan Durbin, Monroe Township trustee. “We rotate maintenance on Skeen Cemetery with Morris Township. And we do the work for Pleasant Valley Cemetery and Ebenezer Cemetery.”
“We have a cemetery fund, but it’s maintained by sale of lots and burials,” said Ilene Doup, fiscal officer for Monroe Township. “We don’t have a levy or anything like that. As of now, it maintains itself [financially]. How long that will happen I don’t know, but if it doesn’t, then the general fund will have to pick it up.”
Doup said the frequency of maintenance work depends on the weather and when it needs to be done. So far this summer, the dry weather hasn’t required as much work as in some past years when there has been a lot of rain. She said it varies from weekly to monthly.
“We maintain Pleasant Valley and Ebenezer cemeteries, and share the cost of Skeen Cemetery with Morris Township. We keep all the records on it, but we rotate maintenance work on it on a yearly basis,” Doup said. “We do mowing and spraying and keep the driveways graveled. We will upright tombstones that have been knocked over or fallen over, but we haven’t had to do any repair work on them that I recall.”
Gary Gallogly, Fredericktown village administrator, said the village has one cemetery for which it is responsible.
“That is the Oak Street Cemetery, which is closed. We just mow it,” he said.
Most public cemeteries in the county have a similar experience. Union Township, which includes the village of Danville, has four cemeteries for which it is responsible. This includes Workman Cemetery just outside of Danville, which was acquired two years ago. The others are McKee Cemetery, Brinkhaven Cemetery and Millwood Cemetery, none of which is inside the village limits.
“We have a special [cemetery] fund,” said Carl Strausbaugh, Union Township trustee. “We took over that Workman Cemetery two years ago when it was broke. We had to raise the prices a little bit and at the present time it is funding itself. As far as maintaining the cemeteries, right now we just keep them mowed.”
Strausbaugh said township officials try to do the mowing about 20 to 22 times a year. The frequency depends on what is needed. Union Township contracts its cemetery maintenance to Modern Builders.
“We don’t mow them if they don’t need it,” he said.