Wet weather wreaks havoc on cemetery upkeep

This photo was sent via virtual newsroom of the conditions of Columbiana County Memorial Park.

EAST LIVERPOOL — Complaints reached a high this weekend, as residents visiting their mothers’ and grandmothers’ graves waded through puddles of standing water and 20-inch grass to find their loved ones’ headstones at local cemeteries.

One area woman emailed the newspaper’s Virtual Newsroom, writing how disturbed her family found the conditions at Columbiana County Memorial Park.

“My family is concerned and dismayed, … (after) we were made aware through a Facebook post that my grandmother’s headstone was discovered in the cemetery’s dump,” she explained that a cousin encountered the post and reached out to the immediate family. “Luckily for us, we were able to get the headstone back, but it is unknown what will need to be done to have it restored in its proper place. We are questioning who will cover the costs? The cemetery was throwing it away in the dump without informing the family. How many other families have been affected?’

Social media has lit up with similar experiences and criticism.

“They have employees, a board and a director. They only seem to take care of the front portion that can be seen from Irish Ridge. It’s ridiculous that people pay thousands of dollars for their plots and then have to turn around and take care of it themselves,” the post said. “They paid for perpetual care.”

Residents say that their attempts to contact cemetery officials in the office have been unsuccessful. The newpaper found the same when they called Columbiana County Memorial Park’s office Monday afternoon.

Members of the Columbiana County Memorial Park board next meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 11 at their 16078 Irish Ridge Road location.

As one cemetery official elsewhere said, “Perpetual is not the same as eternal.”

While parents and grandparents signed up for perpetual care 50 years ago or longer, it was priced so low that it would be impossible to give individual graves special attention at that price, and that especially is the case with East Liverpool’s unique topography.

According to Dr. Marc Hoffrichter, president of Riverview Cemetery who volunteered on the board for 25 years, cemeteries are a tough business. “All cemeteries are in the same boat, but we are a disadvantage. We are located in a valley among the severe slopes of the river valley, and twenty miles west of us is flat,” he said, explaining that it is often too dangerous — especially in bad weather — to operate power equipment and the area’s population bases is declining. “We cannot control the weather, as we have no pull with Mother Nature.”

Generally, the $100 kept out of a $800 cemetery plot is earmarked for perpetual care, but it isn’t earmarked for an individual but the cemetery as a whole.

Attorney Jackman Vodrey, who reinforces Hoffrichter’s assertion that the perceived lack of care is not a money issue, said that endowments on specific grave can be purchased to add care services, which can include items like additional bushes or vegetation.

Riverview Cemetery exceeds more than 17,000 monuments on its 110 acres. This doesn’t count the total number of burial sites, as more people are choosing cremation these days. “People are upset and it is totally justified,” Hoffrichter explains before adding that the cemetery hopes to double its full-time maintenance from two to four full-time staff starting May 28.

While most cemeteries have mostly flat headstones, Riverview is known for its 18,000 monuments, which create a huge amount of work for maintenance staff, and its seven major mausoleums. “It is a lot more effort to maintenance, but it is a huge trademark of our (135-year-old) cemetery,” Hoffrichter, who asks for patience, said that he hopes the impossible challenge cemeteries face between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day will be answered and Riverview once again will be viewed as the jewel it is.

For more information on the specific grave endowment and its offerings at Riverview, call 330-385-3400.