Sunday, December 16, 2012

Decorations, The Good and the Bad

Graveside decorations have become a customary way to help celebrate the life of a loved one now gone. Ranging from the standard flowers to new solar lights, it is not uncommon to find at least one type of decoration on each headstone. And I will be one to say that decorations really do help make a rather cold headstone feel warm and vibrant. However, I have also come across many that have taken the decorations too far, and have gone overboard, or have chosen decorations that do not last in the elements. I will go over some of the most popular decorations, and give my experience in the proper way to celebrate a life with them.


Flowers have always been the favorite way to help decorate a grave site. Originally using live cut flowers, the artificial flower has now become the most popular way to bring color to a headstone. Ranging in colors and arrangements, they really are hard to beat. However, there are some guidelines that one should follow if they chose to use artificial flowers. Proper anchorage is a must for any flowers.  I can remember one night just before Memorial Day brought on strong winds that scattered flowers all around the cemetery. Most of the wind blown flowers were those circular arrangements attached to Styrofoam with a wire tripod to hold them in place. I would recommend if you were to go with these Styrofoam arrangements, that a proper metal or wood stake be used instead of the wire stand. Plastic vases also need some type of extra support since the cheap plastic stake typically breaks. Flowers in permanent vases are also susceptible to wind, and should be anchored using sand, gravel or even chicken wire stuffed into the vase. The second rule to follow is proper placement. I realize that the flowers look their best if directly in front of the grave, however, the location can cause problems for the maintenance crew. Mowing around flower arrangements can become tedious, and trimming can be a nightmare.  Last year alone we picked up 2 truck loads of artificial flowers that were left behind. It would be impossible to move each flower arrangement to weed eat around the headstones. So before you place your flowers, think about what the grave site will look like after a few weeks of growth.

Porcelain Figurines

Porcelain figures come in all shapes and sizes these days. From angels to small frogs, I have seen many of them as I drive past on a mower. These figurines offer a way to help show visitors what meant the most to them, whether it be a pet or a religious symbol. However, I have begun to notice a problem with these porcelain figurines, after they sit in the sun for some time they are extremely brittle.  The smallest touch can shatter the figurine and leave an angel without its wings.  The best way to protect these from accidental damage is to have them set on the stones themselves without any over hang and attached with an adhesive strip or glue. 

Solar Lights

Drive by the cemetery just after dusk, and the cemetery seems to glow like a town in the distance.  Solar lights have become more affordable and popular over the last few years, and now dot most cemeteries.  Unfortunately, the quality has suffered with the price drop.  Cheap plastics and bad designs make them easy targets for mowers and trimmers.  My advise, buy quality lights made of metal or thick plastic.  If not, location is the key.  Placing them in vases or on the sides of the headstones is the best way to ensure they will last. 

I am by no means a hater of decorations, but I do get tired of picking up wind blown flowers and seeing the hundreds of dollars worth of decorations being thrown away because we have no clue where they came from.  A tip if you are still afraid that the decorations will blow away, mark them with the name of the grave.  A simple piece of tape around the bottom of a flower can ensure that we can get it back to its rightful owner.  With a little planning, decorations can be made to last.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Digital Directory Update

I figure it is about time to give everyone a current update on our goal to purchase the digital directory. As of January, we currently have received $5,000 dollars in donations, all within the community. We have been blessed with a good response from the people of Oberlin, all of who think that the directory is a great starting point to the improvement to our cemetery. I would like to say a huge thank you to all that have donated so far. But we are still far from our goal of $20,000. Now that the holiday seasons are over, we intend to hit it hard again, visiting with clubs, talking with the paper, and getting the word spread to the community. We have also tossed around a few fund raising ideas that I would keep your eye out for. Again, I would like to say thank you to all of those who are here to support our community.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Laying Damaged and Broken

Wind can be a powerful force, and the storm of the July 4th weekend showed our town just that. All things were not match for its power, from wood, to metal, and even stone. Our fair cemetery was not spared from its wrath, and sustained a significant amount of damage. The wind bend our mighty flag pole, ripped up our trees, and toppled headstones. All in all 30 headstones were toppled, 26 of those in the oldest section of the cemetery. Many have asked what is to be done by the city to repair the headstones, and the truth is, we really didn't know ourselves. While the cemetery is the cities property, the headstones belong to its residents and their families. Initially, we felt that we would leave it up to the families of those fallen headstones to make the proper repairs. However, as we found out, it was difficult to find the family of some of Oberlin's first residents, and even if they knew, would they care to front the cost? Luckily, Mr. Dale Waldo, a monument company owner volunteered to come speak with us about the possibility of fixing the stones at a discount price since he grew up in Oberlin. After finding out prices, around $2500 total, we decided that we could front the costs, and try to raise money later to pay for the fixes. However, it was decided that we should first attempt to fix a few of the headstones ourselves. Gary Zodrow was gracious enough to loan us his time and tools to show us the proper way to reset a headstone, and we found it to be easier than expected. Over the course of a week, we had fixed, replaced and repaired all of the headstones ourselves at a very minimal cost.

While the city did take care of the repairs this time, I have urged the city to not make this a common occurance. It is only a matter of time until this happens again, and maybe on a large scale. So, I will reiterate, the city will not be repairing headstones that are damaged by natural causes. We simply cannot front the costs that are required to properly repair these historical monuments. However, there is one thing that I am going to urge the city council to do. I intent to ask the council to set aside around $1000 dollars each year for the restoration of headstones within the cemetery. We will decide which headstones are in the most dire need of repair, and have those stones repaired by a professional. By doing this, we can assure that our older headstones will not be forgotten and left to lay broken on the ground. I ask that when next years budgeting comes around in June that you speak with council members to assure them this is the correct direction to head in.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bringing our Cemetery to the Digital Age

For those of you who have visited our fair cemetery, you have likely encountered our directory. The directory, believed to have been built in the 1950s, has served its cemetery well for all of those years, helping visitors find their loved ones once more. However, time and weather have not been kind to our directory. The cemetery it was built to serve has grown to the point there is no longer room on the directory board for new residents, and water leaks make the paper copies illegible.

While searching for a better replacement, I came across Windy Prairie Systems, a company out of Lincoln, NE that specializes in directories, the most interesting of which is a digital touch-screen directory. The directory consists of an all weather touch-screen computer mounted on a steel pedestal mount. But what is really amazing about this directory is the easy to use software and the add-on features. Navigating the directory is extremely simple and can be operated by anyone, even those who have no experience with computers. Simply follow the screen and voice instructions, type in the first four letters of the resident you are searching for, and you are good to go. Once the resident is chosen, the location, the date of birth, and the death date are shown along with an interactive map to help the searching find their search-ee.

But the features do not end there. If a family of a loved one so chooses, they can celebrate their life by purchasing a virtual memorial. With a virtual memorial, things such as photos, obituaries, audio, and videos can be added to the resident's page for all visitors to see. No longer is a cemetery just a place to view headstones, but a way to reconnect with those who are lost to us.

However, a new directory is not cheap whichever direction we choose to go. The cemetery is a service to the community it serves and in no way self-sufficient. This makes proper maintenance and changes difficult. The directory's purpose is to help serve the community and we are who will help raise these funds. We are currently looking for donations of all kinds, including memorials, private donations, and group donations. All donations will be honored on a screen page of the directory. Rotary has already begun some fundraising for the directory, but we are still a long way off from our goal. If you feel like making a donation, please visit the city office. It is time to begin bringing our beloved Oberlin into the 21st century and a new digital directory is a great step towards this goal. Thank you and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me about this issue or anything else involved with my occupation.


Hello and welcome to The Life of a Cemetery blog! My name is Jeremy Tally and I am the sexton at the Oberlin Cemetery in Oberlin, KS. The cemetery lies on 30 acres of the northeast corner of town and is currently the last resting place of around 4,300 residents. It has been an honor and a pleasure of mine to take care of such a beautiful cemetery and now I want to share that experience with readers while also helping to share the goings-on of our cemetery. Few people know the thought and care needed to be a good sexton, but hopefully this blog will give some insight into my daily workload.