By T. Rasmussen
On Monday, June 10th the board of the Hillcrest Cemetery Maintenance District met for their regular meeting. During this meeting community member Tom Anderson addressed the board about concerns pertaining to the condition of both Hillcrest Cemetery and the Mann Creek Cemetery.
Anderson began by stating, “Memorial Day is an emotional time for a lot of people. It is a time for people to come up and pay their respects to their loved ones and to the veterans that have given their lives.” He shared that they had been up there to look for a family members gravestone and stated “it was a chore”. Anderson continued, stating, “It was really the first time I had walked through the cemetery and I was devastated. What I saw in the cemetery was a problem that was more than what two or three weeks of rain causes. I’m not here to point fingers at employees. I’m here to point at the board. It is your responsibility to walk that cemetery prior to an event and find out what it looks like. If you need help you can ask. I have been here in Weiser for 34 years and I know that if you need help and the word goes out, you’ll get it. To come up and experience what I experienced and then to get calls and pictures of Mann Creek Cemetery and see its condition, it’s totally unexceptable”. Anderson asked the board to share if they had toured the cemetery before Memorial Day and what they had to say about it’s condition stating, “I just wanted to open up a discussion on this, find out what your thoughts are, and what your plans are. I know your budget was $128,301 in 2018 and that doesn’t include interments fees and any other fees you charge. I don’t know what the issue is, is it money or what, but I was embarrassed by the way our cemetery looked, I really was”.
Board member Ron Bruce responded stating, “Really the only thing I think we can say is, we kind of got caught off guard. We had a sexton with us for a number of years and he retired and only had a few months to work with our current sexton. I don’t really think even the board realized how much stuff the past sexton had learned and had experience in staying ahead and we are feeling the consequences. It’s not an excuse, but the reality of us not knowing those things”. On the subject of Mann Creek Bruce stated that, “If they are behind here (Hillcrest) then it gets behind up there. That’s just the way it works”.
Meeting attendee Katy Matheson spoke, sharing her story and thoughts about the condition of the cemetery, “This is something very dear to my heart. I lost my husband after a fight with cancer. When I asked him where he wanted to be laid to rest he said Weiser. Because he loved hunting and fishing here and he grew up in this area, plus we have family here. Now that my husband is here I have been here three times. I”m not here to point fingers, but what I do want to say is this does not happen overnight. It happens over a period of time to get it in the state that it is in. Even myself going and seeing the shape of the sod on top of my husband's grave, a patched quilt of dried weeds. I wouldn’t let my boys come up here to see it. My point is, I think I can speak for others as well, when I was here for Memorial Day it broke my heart to lay my blanket next to my husband and see people getting out of their cars and grabbing weed eaters, coming back up to try and locate their family members. Again this doesn’t happen overnight. As a board what are you doing to help and make sure things are being taken care of? I don’t know if you have someone laying here, but I have a plot next to my husband’s and I don’t want this...I want real answers, I just want to understand”.
Ray Laan shared that no one called to ask specific questions to the board members, but jumped on social media to complain. He also went on to say, “Yes, they made a mistake, we all have made mistakes. I understand you want it nice and they want it nice too and their going to work hard to do it. They have the employees now that can do the job. It’s a small town, even though their elected officials they are still volunteers.” It was brought up by other attendees that they had tried to find out who was on the board and could not find anywhere that it shared who board members were or how to contact them. The board asked that if you have questions or concerns please contact the cemetery office.
Board member Karma Laan shared, “We understand that it didn’t look good. Yes, we did do a walk through and at that point we made a list. We did look at those things on the list and visited about them, saying lets get those done, but it didn’t happen. And we are sorry that it didn’t happen. So now we are trying. We know the weeds are a huge issue and Simplot is coming up to look at the weeds and tell us what needs to be applied to them. There are things happening.”
Chairman Steve Penner shared, “Next on the agenda is our cemetery review which we did May 15th. We walked through both cemeteries. We have four pages of notes of things that need to be done. It’s not like we haven’t been doing our jobs. We do it every year before Memorial Day. We are always aware. It’s a long term problem. There are a lot of issues from when the city turned it over to a taxing district and we continue to work on them, but it’s a slow process.”
Up until recently the cemeteries only had one full time caretaker and two part time secretaries. May 9th they hired a second full time caretaker and one seasonal part time worker. With more workers they hope to get a handle on the labor intensive work to care for the grounds. Hillcrest is one of the only cemeteries around that has live plantings and this makes more work for the caretakers. Another issue brought up was that the cemetery uses ditch water to irrigate and that water brings in more weed seeds than city water.
Anderson ended the discussion stating, “This isn’t meant to be a gripe session. What I am saying is, I will leave her satisfied knowing that you know there is a problem and that you are going to try and fix it. I appreciate what you do. It was overwhelming and emotional to see it this bad. There are people who would come up and help, but we can’t help if we don’t know there’s a problem. Leaving here today knowing you know we feel there’s a problem and you are going to fix it, then this was a good meeting”.