Concerned community members met again last night concerning the care and condition of Sunset Memorial Gardens cemetery in Keokuk.
The meeting, led my Kathie Mahoney, took place the Keokuk Labor Temple with a large majority of the gatherer’s from the first meeting returning. Since the first meeting took place last month, progress has been made within the group on what the next steps are and how to go about getting changes made.
Weeks of research and inquires on Mrs Mahoney’s part led to contact with the State of Iowa on the matter, giving the community the necessary steps to contact the correct people within the state government. According to the Iowa Insurance Division, neglected cemeteries are encouraged to be reported by family or a family representative. The Iowa Cemetery Act 523I.401 on neglected cemeteries state: “The commissioner shall create a form that interested persons may use to report neglected cemeteries to the commissioner. The commissioner shall catalog and review the neglected cemetery reports received and conduct site visits as warranted to determine the nature or extent of any neglect”. Mrs Mahoney provided this form to all members attending the meeting, along with addressed envelopes with the correct person and office to send it to. That form can be found below and should be filled out and sent to: Connie Dykstra, Two Ruan Center, 601 Locust Street, Des Moines IA 50309.
Sunset Memorial Gardens is a division of Memorial Park Services, who’s home office is based in Iowa City. The company owns 5 other cemeteries in Iowa, in the cities of Fort Madison, Burlington, Fairfield, Ottumwa, and Iowa City. Keokuk local David Powell took on the task of traveling to the other cemeteries to observe and document their condition in relation to Sunset. His observations showed many of the other locations to also be in disrepair, with the Fairfield cemetery “Memorial Lawn” to be in the worst condition by far.
Previously unresponsive when attempts were made from citizens and even business partners, Sunset has recently began to respond to complaints and concerns. In a Facebook post on June 18th, the company stated:
“Please be aware that new administration and new groundskeepers have taken over Sunset Memorial Park, as of the 1st of June, 2019. They are working hard to improve the conditions and get things back to where they respectfully should be. If you have any specific concerns, please send a message through this page or contact the office at the phone number or email address provided on this page. We apologize sincerely for the past conditions and thank you for your patience and cooperation as we work hard to resolve the issues.
Also, please be aware that perpetual care does NOT include raising and leveling markers that have sunken. The perpetual care account was setup in order to provide upkeep and maintenance on the property (such as mowing and trimming) AFTER the cemetery is completely full and we have no more plots to sell. However, there is no charge to raise and level a marker, but we do need to have a request submitted by a family member in order to do so. If you have a family member who’s marker has sunken and needs to be raised and leveled, please submit a request to the office. These request will then be completed in the order in which they were received. Thanks!”
While the ownership of the cemetery has not changed hands, the representative in charge of the facility has. Previously handled by Memorial Park Services employee Michael Armstrong out of their Ottumwa office, the Keokuk cemetery has now switched responsibility to their Iowa City Office in the care of Mr. Brian Evans. Mrs Mahoney, along with several other local citizens, has since the switch spoken to Mr Evans with their concerns. Mr. Evans echoed the statements of the companies social media post stating that the ground maintenance is now being done by a new company and that sunken head stones will be raised at no cost to family members. However, concerned citizens remain skeptical with many members of last nights meeting stating they were told the same by the previous manager over the years.
“It’s easy to say I’ll do it for free, if I’m never going to do it” stated Kathie Mahoney in response to Mr. Evans and Memorial Park Services claims.
Local business Harrison Monuments has been concerned and a part of the process of getting these issues addressed over a number of years. Representatives present at the meetings informed citizens and family members that they can lift and correct the sunken headstones for the family for a small fee. They did caution plot owners that raising the stones would only be a temporary fix that would have to eventually be repeated if drainage and grounds issues at the cemetery were not corrected.
While the grounds have been recently mowed, the larger issue within the grounds is drainage problems causing the sinking stones, along with washed out roads and exposed vaults.
“The only way to force this company to fix the issues and show our departed loved ones the respect they deserve in their final resting place is to maintain our stance and not back down. When you call, when you send a letter and are told it will be fixed, demand a time line. Demand a time line. Saying your’re on the list and then doing nothing is not acceptable on this companies part”. stated Mrs Mahoney.
Concerned citizens are encouraged to send the “Consumer Complaint Regarding Regulated Businesses” form to the address for the IID listed above. Contact for Mr Evans with Memorial Park Gardens is listed as:
Brian Evans, Office Manager – Memorial Park Services – PO Box 782, Iowa City IA 52244
The next meeting will take place at the Keokuk Labor Temple at 6pm on July 24th, 2019.