For many people, visiting a loved one’s grave in a cemetery provides comfort and peace that they may not experience elsewhere.
With headstones and monuments marking graves, and plastic and real flowers decorating sites, cemeteries are expected to appear tidy and well kept.
But maintaining a cemetery is not easy, as members of the Forest Hill Cemetery Association well know. It takes resources, consistency, and adherence to the policies put in place.
The association is led by board president Walt Buller, who said it might surprise people to know the final resting place for their loved ones is not owned by a government.
Instead, Forest Hill Cemetery, located on Memorial Drive, is a self-sustaining organization led by a volunteer board, with bylaws, rules and fees, and donations that help keep it operating. Should the association dissolve, the cemetery reverts to a local government.
A volunteer is now needed to serve as the sixth member of the cemetery association board, noted Buller.
“You can be involved as you want to be,” he said, adding the board meets quarterly and meetings are open to the public.
“We would like donations, volunteer help, if you see something you don’t like, rather than complain, bring it us and let’s see if we can do it,” Buller said. “There are a lot of things people can help out with because we don’t have the funding or the people to do everything.”
The organization welcomes and encourages people to volunteer to help keep up the cemetery, but has some guidelines they should know about before setting out on any projects, such as cleaning monuments or markers.
Any work must be pre-approved by the cemetery board, notes Buller. And while no phone number is now listed on the association’s website, it lists under “contact us” an email firstname.lastname@example.org and by mailing Forest Hill Cemetery, P.O. Box 1221, International Falls, MN 56649. See accompanying box for contact information for board members.
Buller can be reached at 218-240-5083. For work needed at the cemetery, burials and lots, contact volunteer Mona Johnson at 283-4229.
He also said family should only maintain their loved one’s gravestones, adding using the wrong tools or cleaning products could cause irreparable damage.
Know the rules
As traditions change over the years, the cemetery association has tried to accommodate those changes. That includes establishing a procedure to handle burial of the many people choosing, for a variety of reasons, the less expensive option of cremation. As a result of the increase in cremation, the association has experienced a diminishing revenue stream.
Leif Larsen,Green Larsen Mortuary, told Buller that about 70 percent of people are choosing cremation.
Cremation allows two people to be interned in one grave site, Buller said. The association charges for cremation burial, which includes digging of a whole, maintaining the site in perpetuity, and registering the person buried on the association’s website.
Burial of cremated ashes must be done properly and by contractor Steve Boyum, who Buller said knows the cemetery rules and layout well. Buller noted state law makes it a felony to disturb cemetery property.
In addition, all burials, including urns, must be documented for the cemetery’s records, he said.
“It’s so easy to dig a hole and put an urn in, people think they can just do it themselves,” he said.
Find a grave
Recording the burial in cremations is important to history, he said. By visiting foresthillcemeteryifalls.com, a burial site may be located. Volunteer Julie Joslyn updates the site. Another website that local burials are included in is the findagrave.com
“It’s important because 20 years down the road someone might want to look up where their grandmother or aunt is buried,” Buller said.
To assist in finding graves, new signs have been erected that will guide people to blocks in the cemetery, that correspond to an online map at foresthillcemeteryifalls.com . Buller said people are more and more interested in their family history and genealogy.
Larsen has assisted the association in identifying needs and helping to make the cemetery and its operations better, Buller said. He’s offered a list of ideas, such as allowing Saturday burials, providing consistency with care of graves after opened and closed, and providing more transparency about association meetings.
Dave Mannausau serves as groundskeeper, Buller added.
Buller said keeping costs low is important. Plots are kept reasonable, adding to the challenge of providing care.
In 2019, Falls City Council had budgeted for $5,000 — half the allocation of years past, but later agreed to provide $10,000 for the year in an effort to assist in creating a revenue-generating plan, as suggested by Councilor Joe Krause, who had recently been appointed with Buller to the cemetery association board.
The lion’s share of the cemetery is within the city limits.
At that time, Krause encouraged everyone with an interest in the cemetery to bring forward ideas for new revenue streams for the cemetery.
Located with Forest Hill are the American Legion and Veteran of Foreign Wars areas of the cemetery.
Come spring, Buller said he wants people to know the rules about flowers and other items placed at grave sites, and to understand the reason for them is to allow for maintenance of the cemetery.
Live and artificial flowers will be allowed only during Memorial Day observance: five days before and seven days after Memorial Day.
All flowers, ornaments, shepherd hooks, plant stands, or any other decorations that will interfere with mowing must be removed one week after Memorial Day. Any flowers remaining after that time will be discarded.