Cemeteries still trouble spots for many

It's where we put our loves ones to rest, but what happens when their resting places are neglected?

ST. LOUIS, MO. - They're a tribute to those we love, a resting place that honors a life lost.

But Five On Your Side Investigates has discovered more and more local gravesites going untended, covered in weeds, even lost.

The steel tracks of the Frisco Railway, helped shape the life of Irving Logan.

In the 1940's through 1950's, Logan was a chef and server on the railroad president's personal car.

“He always had order in his life,” said Irving Junior.

Irving Junior says his father would not approve of his final resting place.

“At one time, it was very peaceful and beautiful,” he said.

On a visit to Friedens Cemetery in Bellefontaine Neighbors, Logan and his wife, “Were just stunned,” said his wife, Sharon.

“Dead trees galore,” she said.  “The grass was that tall.”

Irving Junior said, “This doesn't accurately reflect the way he was as a man.”

Cemetery neglect is a sore spot in our community.

Five On Your Side has highlighted the *unrest* in these final resting places a number of times over the years.

Oak Grove Cemetery in North St. Louis County is perhaps the poster child of postmortem neglect.

Now, a new owner promises to restore the once pristine cemetery and mausoleum.

But the suffering on sacred grounds persists for countless others.

“Every time I come, it hurts,” said Jim Thomas.

His mother, Eva, is buried at Gatewood Gardens Cemetery in St. Louis.

“I was 9 years old at the time,” said Thomas.

The unkempt grounds, the toppled headstones and bad roads are dishonoring the memory of the mother he barely got to know.

“I'd even considered at one time maybe moving her,” said Thomas.

Tad Biggs is with the trade group, Associated Cemeteries of Missouri.

He says, time is often the culprit.  A church congregation dissolves, leaving the cemetery unattended.  Others just forgotten.

Missouri does oversee certain cemeteries with trusts formed with money from sales of plots to be used for care and upkeep of the grounds.

But get this, of the thousands and thousands of cemeteries in Missouri, so many that the state doesn't have a count, just a small fraction, less than 90 are licensed and required to account for how the money in the trust is spent.

In addition, the state only audits a portion of those cemeteries each year.

As for the vast majority? Those owned by churches, private groups or municipalities that are non-profit. They are exempt from state oversight.

Biggs believes changing that system would be costly and impractical.

“I mean, you're talking about looking at a lot of cemeteries,” he said.

And state oversight isn't a magic bullet.

Gatewood Gardens, where Thomas' mother is buried, was a state licensed, endowed care cemetery.

But then the owner abandoned it, leaving nothing in the trust fund.

Now the City of St. Louis owns and maintains it as best it can.

“So we're spending thousands and thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to maintain a property that never should have been ours in the first place,” said St. Louis City Spokeswoman Maggie Crane.

But often, according to Robert Fells is with the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, There's no bad guy.”

He says the amount of money that goes into the trust fund often isn't enough to do the job.
“If the cemetery just isn't getting the amount of money that's needed, then it's everybody's problem,” said Fells.

Friedens owner says not enough trust money is a factor in the maintenance of his cemetery, but he's working hard to catch up. Logan's son says he's moving his father anyway.

“And we're going to do it in a way that honors who he was in life,” said Logan Junior.

If you are unhappy with maintenance at a cemetery, finding out who owns it and whether it's state licensed are the first steps.

Here are some resources:

Missouri Office of Endowed Care Cemeteries:  573.751.0849, http://pr.mo.gov/endowedcare.asp

International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association: 800.645.7700, https://www.iccfa.com/contactus

Association of Cemeteries in Missouri: Tad Biggs, 314-821-0688

Funeral Consumers Alliance: 802-865-8300,  https://www.funerals.org/

Funeral Consumers Alliance of Greater Kansas City: 816-561-6322, http://www.funeralskc.org/

© 2017 KSDK-TV


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