Tom Kacich: Cemetery board members hope for help, relief from thieves

Tom Kacich: Cemetery board members hope for help, relief from thieves

All he's asking for is a little relief: relief from the thieves that have been plaguing the cemetery where he is a full-time volunteer, and relief from the fear that there will be no one to oversee the place when he is gone.

"There's only two of us," said David Short, one-half of what is supposed to be a seven-member board of directors of East Lawn Cemetery Association in Urbana, "myself and a lady (Jean Mannin). I'm 72 and she's 78. The board needs some younger blood.

"They don't have to do an awful lot. All they have to do is become aware of the actual workings of the cemetery so that when the time comes that I'm not in a position to do it, they can at least serve. They don't have to do the sweat equity that I'm doing. I'm not interested in anybody coming in here and picking up a shovel unless they absolutely want to. What I'm interested in is the perpetual care of the cemetery."

It's the same thing with Dick Horn, 79, of Thomasboro.

"I'm out there just about every day, not every day but just about every one of them," said Horn, another major donor of volunteer hours at East Lawn. "You see, that's where my wife is buried. That cemetery means something to me. I've spent many, many hours down there and I intend to spend many, many more."

Horn's wife Marlene, died last Oct. 17 and after that he dedicated himself to making her resting place look more attractive.

"It just looked terrible. I said my yard doesn't look that way and my wife's grave isn't going to look that way," he said of his wife of 60 years.

So he persuaded County Materials to donate concrete block, Ennis Excavating to donate mulch and Country Arbors to donate plants. He and Short and a few other helpers built up the entrance and a couple other areas, removed bushes, trimmed others and intend to take out some diseased trees.

"It's really shaping up," he said. "We have some trees we still need to cut down this year. But I don't mind the work. I don't mind it a bit. It's where I'm going. I'm going to be buried right beside her."

The work is manageable for these physically fit old-timers. But the battles with burglars and government is less so. Recently someone cut a hose and stole gasoline from an above-ground tank at the cemetery's storage shed. Earlier this month, thieves drove off with the cemetery's $12,000 mower.

"I drove in with my pickup Saturday morning. I was going to do some stuff here," Short said. "I opened the garage door and noticed the mower was gone and I said, 'Damn, Brad's out there mowing already.' Then I looked over and saw the door had been kicked in. You could see the tracks (of the mower) out in the grass. They just drove it away. I don't know if they had a trailer down there away from the street or not. But it was long gone."

Short, a retired printer at the University of Illinois, became a member of the board three years ago.

"My family is all down there," Short said, gesturing toward the center of the cemetery. "I said I was interested in buying a burial space and Jean said, 'Well, how would you like to be on the board?' So we got to discussing it. I had been thinking about it. I just hadn't made the commitment. I went to the county board and got an application and filled it out and they approved me.

"The most interesting thing about that is you have to be approved by the county board to get on the cemetery board, but after that it's don't bother me. They don't want to have anything to do with the cemeteries and they don't. Two years ago, I asked if I could get some legal advice from their attorney and they said no."

He's not enamored with the city of Urbana, either. It wanted $73 a month from the cemetery for a storm-drainage fee. Short got the fee knocked down to $35 a month, but he said that's $35 the cemetery doesn't have.

"We don't have any direct connection to the sewers," he noted. "As you can see, the lay of the land is such that all the water flows downhill through here into the (Saline) creek. If anything, the city ought to be paying me for getting the water off of Cunningham and Kerr Avenue because it all goes through here."

Short is the jack of all trades at the cemetery association: board member, finance director, maintenance man and more. His father was a laborer and carpenter at the UI, and when he wasn't working his full-time job, he did remodeling work on the side.

"I was his go-fer when I wasn't in school," he said. "If we did a project, we didn't hire anybody. We just did it ourselves."

He helps take care of the cemetery as a tribute to his father.

"I'm doing this because I want to, not because I have to," Short said. "I'm doing it because it's what my dad did. That's how he raised me. He was always busy doing something."

But cemetery board members don't have to put in the time that Short does, he said.

"I need someone on the board who understands what we've done, where the money is and what the money is to be used for," he said of the cemetery's perpetual fund, which he said is stable and growing, after what he would only characterize as "mismanagement" by a previous board. "That's the only thing I'm interested in.

"I'm not asking anybody to do what I'm crazy enough to do. If they do, it's because they want to, not because they have to."

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist, His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gaztte.com.

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