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Cemetery fence removal causes tension

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By Brad Bowman

 

news@hclocal.com

The recent removal of a wrought iron fence from around Point Pleasant Cemetery has been a contentious issue for some families who have loved ones buried there.

In the last two weeks, Stanley Clark, sexton, started taking down the more than 100-year-old fence surrounding the cemetery.

Patty Ethington’s father is buried there. Ethington was passionate about keeping the the fence, a part of the cemetery’s identity, like Judy Lyons, Jane Maskalick and Carolyn Aldridge, who have opposed the fence’s removal.

Ethington, Leonard and Robbie Yount went to the Pleasureville Scrap Yard — where Clark had taken some of the pieces — to buy back the fence.

“I was at the cemetery on Nov. 4, and by Nov. 6, they had taken it down,” Ethington said. “We fought for eight years to preserve it and keep it there. In 2005, I was named chairperson of the special fence maintenance committee. It had been hit several times by cars over the years. We raised $3,000 through fundraising and from random people that donated money in the mail from people that had family buried there. I don’t know why they didn’t call me. I would’ve called everyone else.”

The Point Pleasant Cemetery Board decided in April that something had to be done about the fence. Board members, Diana Berry, secretary-treasurer, Stanley Clark, sexton and Carlos Pugh, chairman all agreed if support didn’t come the fence would fall.

“There were three sections of the fence that were gone — that were run down by a man in 2007,” Berry said. “The man had insurance but not enough to cover the sections. Those three sections were in the curve and have been gone since 2007.”

The board pays for maintenance through perpetual care, but only through the interest generated from it.

“We have perpetual care, and there is $31,000 in it, but only the interest can be used. The interest rate was so low last year that it wasn’t enough to cover the maintenance and mowing,” Berry said. “We had to cash in a CD we had that wasn’t designated for perpetual care. We got about $2,000.”

Pugh said he doesn’t blame people for being upset about the fence, but that they don’t show up for the board meetings to be informed and supporting the cemetery through donations where their family members are buried.

“Whenever your liability outweighs your asset you have to do something,” Pugh said. “The fence was a liability. We have asked for donations and asked for donations. We couldn’t afford to maintain the fence. I made an oral statement at our last meeting six months ago that if somebody didn’t help and step forward to help us with the fence something would have to be done about it.”

According to the board meeting minutes for April 8, Pugh moved that the fence be taken down after six months if no one came up with a solution to repair or replace the fence. Stanley Clark, sexton, seconded the motion. Clark said mowing around the fence created time consuming problems and roundup created just a brown circle in the grass.

“The fence was in bad shape. It couldn’t be repaired. It was bent in several places. It was rusted at the bottom and other places. It was leaning. It just looked awful. There were places that were poked in there that — had been welded on it to try and hold it up,” Stanley said. “I took the pieces to the auction barn to see if it was worth anything in Eminence. A guy offered $750 dollars for it and wanted to know if I would take it and I said sure. I took the other (pieces) over to the scrap yard and it brought $120. There was no way to match the fences with pieces that were missing. Every cemetery around has taken their fence down because of the maintenance. We were going to put that money back in for a plank fence.”

Lyons and her sister, Maskalick, attended the meeting. In the meeting minutes, Berry reported that Lyons opposed the fence being taken down and suggested that Point Pleasant Church take the cemetery over. Berry reported that the church didn’t want the liability or responsibility of the cemetery.

“It’s been in the church newsletter and there wasn’t any interest,” Berry said. “(Lyons and Maskalick) were there they knew it was going to be down in six months and didn’t tell anybody I guess until now.”

Ethington and many others just want the fence back.

“The fence was part of the cemetery. We want it back,” Ethington said. “We want to try and preserve our past and it was just torn down.”

Pugh said the last vehicle that ran through the fence knocked down six headstones and the board attempted to have a guardrail put in place.

“I contacted the highway commissioner requesting a guardrail. They said the county traffic wasn’t high enough,” Pugh said. “Instead they put up a sign. This fence was a liability just to paint it would cost about $4,000.”

The board couldn’t send out a letter to notify family members about the fence removal as they have no record of who or where to send letters.

“My concern is people won’t come to the meeting and they won’t donate any money, but they want everything done,” Pugh said.

Board records indicate funding for the cemetery and the fence have been a constant problem.

In March 2008, the board recorded in the minutes that Ethington had $85 remaining in the fence account and Pugh suggested that the money may have to be used for upkeep of the cemetery sign. John Yount repaired the fence at a cost $180. Berry reported this year a remaining balance of $146.69 in the board’s account. The board cashed in a certificate of deposit this year and also in 2008 to cover costs.

For Ethington, the loss of the fence is just as expensive.

“The historical part of the cemetery is gone and it will never be the same. I don’t think it will ever look the same. You don’t tear down a 100-year-old fence because it’s hard to mow around. It upsets everyone,” Ethington said.