It is a problem far from being solved.
It is a problem which the board of Oakdale Citizens Cemetery, as well as the families with loved ones there, needs the community (at large) to help solve.
On Wednesday, March 4 a public meeting will be held for all concerned citizens to gather and learn of ways in which they might help. Meeting time is set for 7 p.m. in the Royal Oak Room of the Oak Valley Medical Plaza at 1425 W. H St., Oakdale.
“The gist of the meeting is to inform the public basically of dire straits we are in financially,” board member Frank Bianchi said.
“The whole idea of the meeting is to get the public together and make them aware that the cemetery needs money,” Board President Dan Costello stated. “We do have a crisis at the cemetery. If we don’t get enough money it will be turned over to the state and run by the state.”
And while some might assume that may be the answer to the cemetery problems, the board feels they could not be more incorrect. According to the board a substantial endowment fund exists with the state which is untouchable by the acting members responsible for caring for the cemetery.
“If it goes over to the state, the people who have graves here, they can be buried in them but you can’t sell anything new,” Costello explained, noting that the state then uses the endowment money for general upkeep and daily operations. It becomes in fact an inactive cemetery.
“I think that people really, seriously need to understand the difference between a City owned cemetery and a community owned cemetery,” newest board member Paula Stokes shared. “They need to understand the difference. They need to understand they’re part of this community and that is a direct reflection of your community as a whole.”
All members agree, there is improvement at the cemetery which needs to be made, yet they need the community’s help. Whether it be through financial donation, sweat equity or simply attending the meeting with constructive solutions, the board is open.
“You got an idea how to make money? We’re open,” Bianchi said. “What we don’t want is what we had at the public meeting in June. This is strictly informational and what you can do to help solve this problem financially.”
The board equally recognizes support they received following a previous story in The Leader. According to Bianchi significant financial, as well as equipment donations, were made and while it made a dent the needs are so great they must continue their plea for help.
“The main thing for me is how are we going to get the money,” Bianchi said, noting his optimism at the newly formed 501c13 non-profit Friends of the Oakdale Citizens Cemetery.
An effort which has been championed by sister team Louise Sanders and Jane Pooley after voicing their own concerns to the board.
“We are the fundraising arm,” Sanders said, adding they are separate from the existing board.
“Our parents are out there, our grandparents are out there, aunts, uncles, everybody,” she continued. “When you would go out and see it you were furious because it looked so bad.”
“It was clarifying for me,” Pooley shared of her communication with the state. “I think maybe it did light a little fire, because something’s got to change.”
“I assumed the City took care of it. It never entered my head that there was not all the money you need to get those things done,” Sanders added.
As both sisters shared their displeasure and proactive approach to being a piece of the solution rather than the problem they also shared discovering the receipt from their parents’ purchase of their plots. A total of $350 dollars paid one time in full can only go so far.
As the bereavement business transitions from burial to cremation, cemeteries as a whole earn less, yet expenses for upkeep and improvement remain. Hence the problems for the citizens cemetery.
“It’s not that we’re worried about the takeover,” Bianchi said. “It’s the fact that we need to get it set up to keep improving it and not have to worry about how we’ll make this end meet and that end meet.”
Bianchi added annual support from prominent families with many family members there would be both helpful and instrumental.
“I don’t think anyone knows really,” Sanders of the cemetery structure and that it is “citizen owned” versus City owned.
“Our dad made us promise that it was always going to look good and mom would have flowers,” Pooley shared.
As the founders of the 501c13 the sisters plan to first start with a fundraising letter and then look to plan a dinner fundraiser. Mostly they feel the community needs to attend the meeting to learn, just as they did.
“You assumed that this is how it runs and you were wrong,” Pooley said of unhappy patrons. “Come to understand the need for the more money and where it’s going to go and not just they’ve been wasting their money this whole time and not taking care of it. They haven’t had any money.”
“Something beyond today,” Sanders said of the big picture. “We have to deal with today because that’s in your face, but past that we need something that will sustain the cemetery.”
Sanders’ daughter Danielle set up a Facebook page to help generate information as well as alert the community of upcoming events. She is currently in the process of establishing a GoFundMe page for accepting donations. Until then donations may be sent to the Oakdale Citizens Cemetery at 701 E. J St., Oakdale. Persons in need of additional information may call (209) 847-1189.
The group Facebook page is Oakdale Citizens Cemetery.