During the term of President Frank Grabowski in 2018, a concerted effort was begun to address the ways to assist in the preservation of abandoned and neglected cemeteries and increase the sustainability of cemeteries challenged by forces not under their control. Cemetery administrators who manage their cemeteries like a park, rather than the tough business it is, simply will not survive,” says Andrew Conroy President of Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in the Forward of A Cemetery Should be Forever by John F. Llewellyn. Llewellyn says in the book, “Cemeteries just don’t go away when they fail. . . They become eyesores, nuisances, or financial burdens to their communities.”
As we tell those that inquire to us for assistance, we can offer our professional expertise and access to other resources, but there is no magic bullet to give them and there is no calvary riding to the rescue. It is the community that is threatened by an eyesore, nuisance or financial burden that needs to act. The story of Sandyvale Memorial Gardens and Conservancy in Johnstown is a model that some may wish to embrace. For them, a wine dinner and wine festival has served to provide funds needed to stabilize a cemetery abandoned in the 1950’s. Others may like the one-night affairs at West Laurel Hill’s Gravediggers’ Ball (Philadelphia) or Mount Bethel Cemetery’s Fete Noir (Columbia). Music, food, and dancing helps loosen the donations! The last two are “friends” group led activities where a nonprofit 501 c(3) exists to receive donations and these funds are passed at some time for the operation of the cemetery as a 501c(13) entity.
The Pennsylvania Bureau of Historic Preservation has a cemetery survey form that helps organize the information about the cemetery for both their use and interested citizens’ groups. A list of handy links that may be of assistance are included here.
In the October 3, 2022 article, Perpetual Care Planned for Cemetery Where Thaddeus Stevens Rests, published in LancasterOnline, Jack Brubaker, the Scribbler Columnist, tells of efforts by Ross Hetrick, President of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, to establish an owner and an endowment fund for the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery. According to the article, the Shreiner family abandoned the cemetery mid-20th century leaving it ownerless. Currently, its maintenance is being addressed by volunteers of the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery Foundation and the City of Lancaster. They have engaged Saxton and Stump to assist them in this process. Many of you will recognize the firm Saxton and Stump as Jason Benion, Esq. is a frequent contributor to our newsletter.
In the fall of 2021, the conference New Life for Old Cemeteries: Connecting Communities and Open Space took place virtually and provided some excellent content and progressive approaches to many of the issues facing cemeteries and their workers today. The conference was sponsored by Arch Street Meeting House Preservation Trust, Historic Eden Cemetery, Laurel Hill Cemetery and West Laurel Hill Cemetery and Funeral Home, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, and The Woodlands. You can find their entire conference on YouTube.
In recent preservation news is the activity of Preservation Pennsylvania. Preservation Pennsylvania is a private organization that solicits funds to preserve and protect Pennsylvania places. Preservation Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Pennsylvania Hallowed Grounds, is pleased to announce their pilot project, the Pennsylvania African American Cemetery Stewards Network, has been selected to receive grant funding from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The program will offer cemetery stewards site-specific preservation plans, financial advice, and direct support for site conservation and planning for future work.
Barry Rudel, Chief Executive of the Jewish cemetery Burial Association of Greater Pittsburgh send us a link to their wonderful project taking you on a video tour of the cemeteries under the care of their association. Combined with the records located at the Heinz History Center this makes an integrated tribute to the Jewish legacy and heritage in western Pennsylvania. See for yourself (copy and paste into your browser.) http://vimeo.com/showcase/jcba.
Finally, we have seen the press release from Saving Our Ancestors Legacy (SOAL). SOAL will be partnering with Messiah University and Harrisburg University to use photogrammetry to create a 3D story map of Harrisburg’s oldest, extant, historically Black Cemetery: Lincoln Cemetery. By combining the use of drones to take many pictures of each gravestone in Lincoln Cemetery, historic aerial photographs, GIS data, the historic hand-drawn cemetery maps, SOAL Restoration Weekend photos, transcribed gravestone text, and maybe even Lincoln Cemetery genealogical research, we will be well on our way to setting the groundwork for using a new technology to preserve a Black Cemetery!
As the operator of multiple cemeteries, funeral homes and crematories in the state, I am proud to be associated with the PCCFA. Despite being owned by SCI, the largest provider in the death care industry, PCCFA provides opportunities, networking and resources that cannot be found anywhere else. Since joining PCCFA, I have built a network of experts that help me to provide the best services to our respective communities. The membership is very willing to share methods and practices which help me to provide a safe, ethical and profitable business.
In addition, the PCCFA helps to raise a more collective voice when discussing legislative issues that arise. It has given me a forum where we can effectively discuss and guide legislative issues which have lasting impacts on the communities we serve and our ability to properly operate our business. I am very proud that the faces we see at our board meetings, conferences and committee meetings represents a very diverse range of people, just like the communities we serve.
The opportunities and benefits of being affiliated with the PCCFA have paid me back exponentially. I encourage anyone who is interested in joining to reach out and get involved.
In 1999 PCCFA President Bill Moulton reached out to me and invited me to attend a PCCFA meeting. I learned so much and met so many experienced industry professionals at that meeting that I immediately became a member. PCCFA membership accelerated my industry knowledge through networking and educational opportunities and continues to add value to me every year. All cemeteries in Pennsylvania could benefit from joining.
I joined PCCFA because it’s my responsibility and duty to do so. As the President & CEO of two of the Commonwealth’s most historic cemeteries, being a member of PCCFA demonstrates my commitment to the industry and to ensuring that others adhere to the high ethical standards that we do at Laurel Hill. I joined because I believe there is tremendous need to educate others about the innovative and progressive nature of our industry and to advocate for advancements that will benefit all.
As someone relatively new to this field, I joined PCCFA to engage with my colleagues, learn from them, and add my unique perspectives and professional experience. I joined to work collaboratively for the benefit of all in Pennsylvania’s death care industry.
I joined PCCFA because my father said I should. He believed our state organization accomplished four important missions: 1 – Education for our members to improve their performance in serving their public. 2- Ensuring our members were reminded of our obligation to perform the highest ethical standards when serving our public. 3- The political reality that we needed to defend ourselves from segments of competing businesses that would attempt to pass legislation that harmed our industry while benefiting theirs. 4 – The benefit of networking and social comradery that comes from meeting with fellow PCCFA members.
My father’s guidance has proven to be wise council time and time again in my 44 years in the industry. We do not grow, develop, improve to become the best we can be if we remain sheltered in our private little business world not participating in or exposed to what was happening in the larger business world. It does not matter if you are a Cemeterian, Funeral Director, Cremationist, or florist, if you are a part of the Death Care Industry in Pennsylvania you really should become a member of PCCFA.
When we were close to finalizing the acquisition of Life Remembered (formerly CMS East, LLC), Tim Kernan, a PCCFA board member for many years , advised me that it was important to be a member of PCCFA. He also recommended being a board member because it allows you to be in tune with regulatory and legal developments in the State. He also recommended supporting the PAC to ensure we had representation in the political arena.
Since joining the PCCFA, I have made friends and acquaintances that have given me advice and guidance. I feel like I’m part of a group of caring and supportive people who understand the day-to-day challenges of being in the funeral and cemetery industry.