The list is long, the work eminent, yet the volunteer board, as well as management of Oakdale Citizens Cemetery, OCC, is determined to make it right.
Contrary to what the perception has been, the board overseeing the 501c(13) would like nothing more than for the grounds to be pristine and its patrons to be pleased. There’s just one problem – lack of funds.
“People are trying to jump in and do something. The funds are so limited,” OCC Board Vice President Frank Bianchi said. “So we’re trying to change some policies and see what we can do so we can get this place looking better.”
Bianchi, one of the newer members to the board, shared he too has family, as well as interest in the grounds. The non-profit status and the lack of incoming revenue, however, make it hard for the board to not just maintain the grounds, but also the equipment necessary to do the work.
“The cemetery is not funded by anything other than the grave holders,” OCC Board Secretary Melinda Owen stated. “The sale of the grave or the sale of the service. That’s the only money that comes to the cemetery.”
The board members noted the changing climate in the burial business has greatly affected income being generated by OCC. Not only are people living longer, many are passing on traditional burial and opting for cremation. Purchase of a cremation site sells for less than that of a full burial site.
“It’s a desperate financial situation that we are in,” Owen added. “The overall funeral scene, burial scene has changed tremendously in just the last two years.”
The OCC was first incorporated in 1883 as a dry land cemetery. The sand soil on which it’s housed creates challenges not just for maintenance but maintaining a green landscape of any type. Earlier this year the weather, coupled with the soil type and staffing challenges brought much attention to the town’s oldest burial ground, as its appearance began to deteriorate.
“In February we had all that rain,” Owen stated. “We had deep, deep rains. By March 15 it was like the Kansas wheat fields had sprouted out here. Weather created more work than could be maintained.”
The board secretary stated the embarrassment felt by the board, as well as management by not being able to have the grounds pristine for the Easter holiday. A note was posted in an effort to inform as well as apologize to the families.
Operating as a non-profit however, the board needs the community as well as the plot owners to understand its financial limitations. In an effort to do that, a Town Hall meeting was hosted in early summer, after much disappointment was shared with the board, as well as formal complaints made to the state.
During the meeting the OCC Board shared the financial constraints, as well as a list of needs for equipment to maintain the property. Everything from weed sprayers, chainsaw, hedge trimmer to a commercial grade push mower would be valued assets to the non-profit.
“The limited funds is what it comes down to,” Bianchi said. “People are trying to do things, but it’s just so difficult until we get the finances.”
“Owned by burial site purchasers and managed by a board comprised of concerned citizens,” Owen contributed, in regards to what it means to maintain a non-profit cemetery. “It’s their plot.”
And while the board has no complaints with doing what they can to work toward bringing the community well maintained grounds, they could also use some help, as well as understanding.
In late summer, Dan Costello joined Bianchi and Owen on the board, taking over as board president and earlier this year, after months operating without one, a cemetery manager was hired.
“What we’re trying to do is get a system going,” Bianchi said. “Our new manager, who is really enthusiastic, has set up a mowing schedule. Right now we’re in a world of hurt, money wise.”
“We’re also working on establishing new by-laws,” Owen added. “The by-laws were very outdated.”
Yet in spite of it all, the outcome of the early summer meeting, the change of the board and the addition of the new manager has breathed new life into the OCC Board. A group of volunteers has since formed and begun the process of starting a dedicated volunteer organization to offer additional assistance. Assistance with upkeep, as well as fundraising would highly benefit the cemetery and all of its needs.
Current operating expenses are paid through the interest earned on the cemetery’s endowment, with sales down and interest marginal at best this doesn’t leave much money for many of their ongoing needs. Cemetery officials cannot take money from the endowment fund; the cemetery can only benefit from any interest earned.
“It matters to me. I have family here,” Owen said of the condition and upkeep of the grounds. “It’s my neighbor. I care about it. We don’t want it to look like this. Our hands are tied right now and the straps are getting tighter, because (of) the overall industry and the way things are going.”
“All of us came out here complaining and this is where we ended up,” Bianchi said of himself and fellow board member Costello. “None of us were happy. We want to try and get something done.”
Yet the longtime Oakdale residents believe in the community, as well as the future of the cemetery. Both noting the addition of the volunteer group, once up and running will serve largely for the good, but it will take time.
“This community always responds,” Bianchi said. “We just need to have the basic working structure in place so that we can handle the money that comes in or the volunteers.”
For additional information on cemetery needs or to offer help with varying projects contact the Oakdale Citizens Cemetery at (209) 847-1189. All voicemail messages will be returned promptly by a board member.