Confusion arises over local cemetery care

In non-endowed sections of cemeteries, as seen here, the upkeep duties fall to the family of the deceased. (Staff photo: Ryn Gargulinski)

By Ryn Gargulinski: CNJ staff writer

Instead of sitting quietly in meditation Saturday at her father’s-in-law grave in Lawn Haven Cemetery, Clovis resident Shelly Grim found herself ripping out weeds and even cutting down a tree.

Grim also said the grass was dried out, the weeds were overgrown and a statue of Jesus was missing its arms.

“The name of the cemetery is almost a joke,” Grim said of the site located on Llano Estacado Boulevard. “You expect it (a cemetery) to almost look like a golf course, but not with the weeds and dryness.”

Clovis resident Margaret Dindinger is equally disgusted with the state of the Mission Garden Cemetery on West Seventh Street, where she has relatives as far back as her great-grandparents buried. Her complaints range from overgrown weeds to a grave that is sinking into the ground.

“It happens every year,” Steed-Todd Funeral Home General Manager Joe Champouillon said of the dearth of complaints from area residents. Although funeral services and burial plots are sold separately, Champouillon said people complain to the funeral home about the upkeep of graves.

“Starting in early May and running to Memorial Day, we get about one phone call a day (about the state of the cemeteries),” he said.

Champouillon said Memorial Day is the biggest grave-visiting time of the year.

Houston-based Service Corporation International is responsible for the upkeep of both cemeteries, according to company officials and Champouillon, except for the non-endowed sections at Mission Garden, where the upkeep duties fall to the family of the deceased.

Champouillon said SCI owned Steed-Todd until recently. Now, he said, Steed-Todd is owned by Legacy Funeral Group in Houston, although SCI retained responsibility for the upkeep of the cemeteries.

Champouillon said he agreed to oversee SCI’s maintenance crew until SCI finds someone else to oversee its local workers.

“That’s why I’m fielding the complaints,” Champouillon said.
But he said the biggest confusion is this:

“People don’t understand the difference between endowed and non-endowed care.” When people purchase an endowed plot, a portion of the money goes into a regulated state fund used to perpetually maintain the area, he said. The upkeep of a non-endowed plot is the responsibility of the family, he said.

Champouillon said an endowed plot typically costs twice as much as a non-endowed plot.

Champouillon said 90 percent of the cemetery on West Seventh, which dates back to 1907, is non-endowed, but maintenance crews “do what they can” to tend to it after its small endowed section and Lawn Haven, all of which is endowed, are spruced up.

“It takes a lot of work to maintain a cemetery,” Champouillon said. “The crew doesn’t just trim and mow,” he said of the full-time staff of two, which adds part-time seasonal help. The workers are responsible for clearing debris, cleaning and repairing vandalism, and even digging new graves, he said.

Clovis deputy treasurer Geri Elliott confirmed the two cemeteries belong to the same company, listed as Lawn Haven Memorial Gardens, SCI Property Tax Department.

“If it’s up to the family (to maintain the gravesite), then fine,” Dindinger said, “just let us know what we can do.”

Champouillon said families are free to water, mow, trim weeds, or prune as needed to maintain the gravesites. He also said spigots and garbage receptacles are available at West Seventh Street.