Cemetery’s disrepair upsets community

Less than one mile south of Interstate 99’s Tipton/Grazierville exit, the unmarked Charlottesville Cemetery along Route 220 stands across from Tristar Ford, its dirt-and-gravel road looping through the property and dividing it into three parts.

The north side of the cemetery is in the worst shape; many of the old, weather- and time-worn tombstones stick out of the ground haphazardly like candles on a melting cake but are often obscured by high weeds and fallen leaves littering the grounds.

Dead tree branches cover some of the ground plaques.

Cemetery manager Michelle Waring-Burket, whose family has cared for cemeteries for four generations, said she understands why some lot owners feel it’s disrespectful that the land is in such bad shape.

“I feel terrible,” she said.

Waring-Burket said her father, Jeffrey Waring, who died in October, acquired the cemetery decades ago when its former owners gave it to a family friend, Ben Jones, who was a lawyer in Tyrone.

She said Jones called her father when he was looking for a caretaker. At that time, a bank fund designated to pay for the cemetery’s care paid out $1,000 per year to her father.

Waring-Burket said her father took the bank to court and got the amount increased to $150 a month, or $1,800 a year. That was in 1982, she said, and it hasn’t changed in over 30 years, despite increased business costs.

Now, she said, that $150 is gone within a week, and she can’t afford to hire employees or mow the grass more than once a month.

“The rest of the time I’m paying out of pocket to mow that cemetery,” she said.

Bellwood-Antis Historical Society President Mary Brunner helped to organize a concerned citizens group, which met earlier this month at Tipton Fire Hall to discuss the cemetery’s future.

Brunner said she knows Waring-Burket isn’t making enough money from the fund but added that the land isn’t being taken care of and community members are “very upset and angry.”

Too many local descendants have family members buried there, she said, and if something can’t be done she hopes a citizens’ group can take it over.

Waring-Burket said there is $13,000 in the fund right now, but that it’s disappearing fast.

At one point, her father also was caretaker for Grandview and Eastlawn cemeteries in Tyrone. She still manages Eastlawn, but Grandview was taken over by an association of local residents years ago when her father was facing similar financial and maintenance problems.

Antis Township Supervisor Charles Taylor brought up the cemetery issue during the board’s April 4 meeting, saying he had been contacted about it.

He said he hopes something can be done, noting that his family’s ancestors are buried there.

Waring-Burket said she had hoped to be able to handle the project on her own, but it became too much for her.

She said she has been trying to work with older equipment and insufficient funds for a long time. She said at one time she had volunteer help from clients from the Pyramid Healthcare program who were looking for community service hours, but even with free labor the costs mounted.

She noted that when some families bought plots in the early 1900s, the cost for perpetual maintenance was $2.

“Now, $2 won’t even buy a gallon of gas” for the mowers, she said, and that was how much was paid to maintain the plot forever.

Waring-Burket said she hopes younger volunteers can help. A lot of residents who attended the Tipton meeting were in their 70s, she said, living on a fixed income and incapable of the physical labor needed to get the cemetery back into good condition.

With only one burial last year and a three-year period from 2008 to 2011 with no burials, something more will have to be done to increase finances to pay for the cemetery’s long-term upkeep.

“I’ve been in this business my entire life,” she said. “But my hands are so tied.”

The group’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Tipton Fire Hall.