Passing the care of cemeteries to the next generation

Submitted photo
Lincoln Cemetery, similar to other older cemeteries, is not receiving donations from loved ones like it used to in the past. Donations are necessary for mowing and upkeep of the cemetery, Many cemeteries have decoration days in May and over Memorial Day weekend.
Submitted photo Lincoln Cemetery, similar to other older cemeteries, is not receiving donations from loved ones like it used to in the past. Donations are necessary for mowing and upkeep of the cemetery, Many cemeteries have decoration days in May and over Memorial Day weekend.

LINCOLN -- This time of year, many cemeteries have what's called "Decoration Days," where people will come out and clean the graves of their loved ones and set out new or fresh flowers.

The cemeteries usually ask for donations during those days to help with costs for mowing and upkeep of the property.

Jeff O'Brien of Lincoln, who also is a captain with Prairie Grove Police Department, became involved with the Lincoln Cemetery last year, and he said it's been eye-opening to him because there seems to be a shift in interest in cemeteries, especially since the covid pandemic.

"Younger people don't have the connections to these family cemeteries as the older generation and are not giving donations to help with the maintenance of the property. Eventually, what will happen?" O'Brien said.

Lincoln Cemetery, which is not a city-owned property, has a board of directors but they are getting to the age where it's harder for them to be involved.

O'Brien said that's why he is now serving the cemetery to take care of the financial records -- several widows approached him about helping.

"They basically handed me the books to it. I don't even have a loved one in it," he said.

Looking at the books, he saw that money is not coming in from donations but money is going out for mowing.

"Soon there will be a deficit. I'm sitting on what's left in the fund," he said. "Before covid, some people would show up on Decoration Day and at least make a donation. No one is coming now."

Lynda Bottoms of Prairie Grove is a member of the board of directors for Lincoln Cemetery and is one of the women who talked O'Brien into helping.

Bottoms said she remembers going with her grandmother to the cemetery on Decoration Day with flowers from the garden. They would clean off family graves and then decorate them.

At one time, she said families even had meals on the ground.

"We did it every year, making sure everything was clean and to respect the ones who have passed." Bottoms said.

Her husband was custodian over the cemetery before he passed away.

"Each generation, it is harder to find someone to take it over," she said.

J.C. Dobbs, a funeral director with Luginbuel, said the funeral home has seen the lack of interest for quite a while.

Dobbs mows his family's cemetery south of Morrow, called Dobbs Cemetery, where his father and grandfather are buried.

"The next generation has not stepped up like this generation has," he said.

Overseers of cemeteries are called sextons and many sextons for cemeteries out in the county are now in their 70s and 80s and it doesn't seem like people are coming up to replace them, Dobbs said.

"The people who take care of them have a vested interest in them but the only problem is that after that generation passes, it begs the question who will," he added.

Larger cemeteries in western Washington County, such as Prairie Grove Cemetery and Farmington Cemetery, do not have the same financial concerns as some smaller ones out in the country, according to Dobbs.

Melba Garrett of Prairie Grove said Sharp Cemetery always had 10-12 families who helped with the property, but over the years, some family members have passed away or are not able to do it anymore.

Now, there are about 10 people who give donations to help with costs.

"Younger kids just are not interested in it. And some of them aren't that young," Garrett said.

She's been custodian for the cemetery for 35 years but at some point someone else is going to have to take it, she said.

She estimates the cemetery may receive $800 in donations but mowing costs are more than $200 every two weeks during the mowing season. She said the cemetery will accept donations by mail, as well as receiving donations on Decoration Day.

"We have money for the maintenance now but when some of us who are doing it are dead and gone, I'm not sure what they will do," Garrett said.

Luginbuel's website, luginbuel.com, has a map that shows cemeteries in the area with a drop-down box to get information about each cemetery. This list provides the name and address for the cemetery's custodian and also lists the names of those buried in the cemeteries. Anyone interested in donating money to a cemetery can contact a custodian for more information.

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