Times are certainly tough — no surprise there — and communities are being forced to get creative with how they solve problems. One such entity, the Oakdale Citizen’s Cemetery, is making an urgent plea to the community for help in the upkeep of the cemetery grounds by proposing the Adopt-A-Plot program. Intrigued? You should be. For some community members, their loved ones are resting peacefully within the 13-acre endowment cemetery but the situation regarding the grounds upkeep is downright dire.
“We are running out of graves in our developed area, and need to finish the new development made possible with the help of the Lions Club and individual donors,” Oakdale Citizen’s Cemetery Manager Antoinette Ryun said. “We just need to find creative ways to raise money, aside from grave sales, and burial, though. It’s frustrating to see a fence that needs to be repaired, or broken sprinklers we can’t get to, and a road that needs to be paved and no possible way to fund the necessary repairs.”
For many years now the Citizen’s Cemetery has been plagued with upkeep issues as the rising cost of maintenance has outstripped the funds available to the endowment cemetery.
“There are misconceptions about how the ‘endowment care’ works, and that seems to be the core issue that most people call about,” Ryun explained, sharing what the lion’s share of complaints are regarding the cemetery. “Family members call and say, ‘I paid $150 for grave care, and it’s not being cared for!’ That $150 goes into the ‘Endowment Care Fund.’ The interest from that $150 is what’s actually available to us. Currently the interest on all of the funds amounts to about $12,000 per year. The yearly state mandated audit takes about half or more of that. The $6,000 that’s left will run the cemetery, on a shoestring, for about two and a half months. The endowment care can’t take care of the cemetery. There just isn’t enough. Even if we could use the principle in the fund, it still wouldn’t be enough. We’d run out of money in about 10 years. The State (who mandates the ‘endowment care fund’) knows all of this. The solution lies in the individual ‘private non-profit’ cemeteries finding creative ways to raise money and help for themselves. With 8,000 people buried in the cemetery, and all their many family members, it’s become a regular conversation.”
Family members may care for their own family plot without becoming “adopters.” The same policies apply to all of the plots, as far as restrictions to plantings and such, but nothing prevents families from working on their family plots, Ryun added.
Four years ago the Oakdale Garden Club adopted the cemetery as their beautification project and the current club president Brenda Peterson still comes out regularly to care for a couple of spots that the Garden Club originally adopted but there is so much more that needs to be done and there simply haven’t been enough dedicated volunteers to make it happen.
Ryun was encouraged by the work done by the Living Hope Fellowship last year when 120 members descended upon the cemetery before Memorial Day, filling her with hope that there are volunteers out there who want to help if they know help is needed.
“I’d never seen it look as good as it did, or heard as many compliments as I did last year,” Ryun said.
The idea to “adopt” the cemetery came from Peterson and another garden club member as well as the newest member of the cemetery board, Liberty Aguiar.
“Liberty started working on a large section when her husband was laid to rest here,” Ryun said. “She would come out and sit at her husband’s grave and was frustrated by how much work she could see that the caretaker couldn’t get to. She started talking with Brenda, and eventually joined the garden club and started helping at the cemetery in the section where her husband Marty was laid to rest. She mows, edges, waters, and fertilizes the lawn and takes care of some of the original plantings in a very large area (about 10,000 square feet).”
Peterson suggested Ryun take a look at the Old City Cemetery in Sacramento, mentioning that volunteers maintain the entire site, creating a beautiful, peaceful garden oasis for their deceased loved ones.
“After I looked at the Old City Cemetery website, I started thinking about Liberty, and how much she was accomplishing, and ‘what if?’ I could just find 10 more of her … My original intention was to see the bottom half (the ‘old section’) adopted out, so that our part-time caretaker could just do the top half and be able to finish mowing and edging in two weeks rather than six,” Ryun said.
In order to turn the project into manageable proportions, the cemetery has been split into 3,000-square-foot sections.
Adopters — whether individuals, families or groups — are asked to mow, edge, and remove debris on a regular basis so that the area appears maintained and while there is no contract to sign, there is an honor-system of sorts with the adopters promising to try a yearly commitment. However, even that term is not set in stone as the idea is to foster good, mutually beneficial relationships, not scare people away with rigid rules.
“We’d like to have adopters promise to try to get through a year, but if they find it’s not really their cup of tea, a shorter amount of time is okay,” Ryun said. “We just would like to know if they’ve decided not to do a section so that we can maintain it again or pass it on to another interested volunteer. All volunteers should come in and fill out an application, so that they can be assigned a specific section, and we ask that volunteers also provide proof of personal liability.”
There is no cost to “Adopt A Plot,” however, adopters are responsible for bringing their own tools and fuel.
“I hope to see this grow. I hope to see others like Liberty and our other volunteers who just want to help because they can. I’d love to see more than just ‘mow and blow,’ eventually. There’s so much room for improvement and more beautification. It will be interesting to see where it goes,” Ryun said.
Of course, with all things, there are guidelines that need to be adhered to, Ryun admitted.
“All of the guidelines for the adopters are based on the cemetery’s policies, which are relative to ownership of the graves,” Ryun said. “So, basically I ask people to look at it this way, we are taking care of someone else’s property when we care for the cemetery. We don’t own it, and therefore can’t make assumptions when planting, or caring for the surrounds of the individual family plots. Currently we ask that the volunteers only care for what is there by mowing, edging or weedeating, and clearing debris. If there are bushes or trees already on the area, those may be cared for, but we ask that additions or changes not be made.”
And spring is around the corner so that means the grass will start growing in earnest so the program is kicking off as soon as possible, Ryun said.
“We’re hoping to have a meeting with interested volunteers and get started soon, because with spring approaching, we’d like to be ahead of the grass,” Ryun said.
Anyone interested in participating in the Adopt-A-Plot program at the Oakdale Citizen’s Cemetery is urged to call 847-1189 or 247-9457 for more information.