AVON — California resident and Lorain County native Nancy King expected to return to Ohio on Thursday to make her case against the owners of the Resthaven Memory Gardens.
King’s parents, Ralph and Julia King, are buried in the cemetery at 3700 Center Road in Avon and there is a third plot reserved for her. King received pictures from a cousin still in the area of the cemetery, including photos of her parents’ graves, flooded and damaged.
She and hundreds of others who have loved ones in the graveyard have been vocal about the condition of the cemetery for months. Complaints to Avon cited puddles of water and wet, unstable ground, according to city officials.
“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to just complain, I want to do something,’” King said.
So King planned to take her concerns to the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission. The commission, under the real estate and professional licensing division of the Ohio Department of Commerce, has received complaints about the condition of Resthaven since 2012.
King filed a complaint Jan. 14 with the department, which sent the complaint to StoneMor Partners with instructions to reply within 30 days. King received a copy of the reply, which she felt was unsatisfactory.
The letter from StoneMor said King’s parents’ graves weren’t flooded or damaged. The letter also said King hasn’t been to the cemetery in a number of years and doesn’t have a “firsthand experience” of the cemetery’s condition.
“Regarding the general complaints about flooding, this area of Ohio received a substantial amount of rainfall this year and the ground is saturated,” read the letter.
The letter added that StoneMor has spoken with Avon officials and plans to have an engineer come to look at the cemetery and provide recommendations. The flooding issues, according to the letter, would be addressed “as soon as practical,” which would be sometime in the spring or summer.
After the response, a hearing was scheduled for King to appear before the commission with Laura Monick, registration and resolution chief of the department’s real estate and professional licensing division. The hearing is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Thursday at 77 S. High St. in Columbus, after a separate hearing from two other complainants about the Resthaven Cemetery scheduled as old business at 10:30 a.m.
Although the commission has no authority to force StoneMor to do anything to improve the cemetery, Monick told King the hearing may make it more difficult for the approval of the company’s licensing registration under the commission. According to the registration database on the Department of Commerce website, StoneMor’s registration for Resthaven was renewed July 1 and will expire Sept. 30.
Katie Hildebrand, a local resident and administrator of the Facebook group called “Rescuing Resthaven Cemetery,” said she wanted to help in some way for the hearing. The Facebook group was created Feb. 26 and has about 400 members dedicated to residents’ concerns with the condition of the cemetery.
Hildebrand has been collecting signatures for an online petition about the condition of Resthaven Cemetery. If anything, she hopes the petition would help add to King’s credibility in the hearing. The petition has about 1,281 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, well beyond its 1,000 signature goal.
“It’s a start, but it’s not going to be the answer to getting things fixed at Resthaven,” Hildebrand said. “It can at least help with getting the ball.”
StoneMor, based in Pennsylvania, manages 322 cemeteries and funeral home properties in 27 states across the country and Puerto Rico.
Under the cemetery minimum maintenance guidelines for the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission, cemeteries should be expected to:
- Cut grass and trim around markers and monuments once per month during the growing season.
- Have a plan in place to remove underbrush, leaves, tree seedlings, and dead trees and flowers.
- Remove trash and funeral flowers once a month (artificial flowers once a year).
- Sod or seed graves as necessary within one year of burial.
- Foundations for new markers that have been ordered should be set within a calendar year.
- Roads, buildings, structures and fencing should be maintained and repaired as needed.
- Cemetery perimeter should be marked.