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Memorial Day memories

Agriculture.com Staff 02/07/2016 @ 11:27am

When I was growing up, my dad was an active member of the local cemetery board. I remember that he would attend meetings and help out with volunteer work when needed. He was preoccupied with keeping the grounds looking nice and the organization on sound footing financially.

While he was on the board they purchased an acre of land for additional burial lots from the adjoining farm. I think the year was 1948. It is now the area where most of the burials take place.

At the time I thought that my father's preoccupation with cemetery affairs was morbid. He took his spot in the burial property in May, 1973. I was 32 years old at that time. Not long after that I began to understand the important place cemeteries play in the culture of small rural communities. I have since become as fascinated with these icons of rural culture as my father was.

Two years ago I got my chance to become involved in the operation of the local rural cemetery. A friend of mine who was on the board asked me if I was interested in the treasurers job when he gave it up. Without realizing that he was planning to retire immediately, I said yes. Not long after that he resigned and I was the replacement.

The organization I am treasurer of has an endowment on which the interest is supposed to pay for upkeep. That worked as planned when interest rates were five percent. It does not work with interest rate where it is today. When I renewed the CD last October, the interest rate on the renewal was 1.75%. It takes an interest rate of about 5% to break even on the mowing, snow removal and other upkeep. It does not take a financial genius to calculate that the low interest rates in effect today are leading to financial ruin for our cemetery.

Pronouncements from the federal government that it is keeping interest rates low to stimulate the economy frustrate me. Low interest rates are fine for small businesses which borrow operating capital. However, having the interest at less than two percent is killing organizations and individuals that rely on interest income to operate. Somewhere along the line there has to be a compromise that works for entities on both end of the interest rate spectrum.

The interest for one year on the endowment pays for roughly two month's mowing of the cemetery. We sell one or two plots per year for burials which will pay for another one or two months of upkeep. In the last fiscal year there were eight burials, mostly on lots that had been previously purchased. We get $25 for those burials. The rest of the expenses are paid by taking principle out of the CD.

Unless the situation changes soon, the future does not look very bright for this rural cemetery association. Besides the items mentioned, there are nine trees planted by our ancestors that need to be taken out before they fall and damage grave markers. Figure about $1500 per tree to get that job done. We are fortunate that the damage done to the chain link fence by last winter's snow is being repair with volunteer labor and used materials. However, new expenses continue to crop up regardless of our inability to pay them.

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