Free-standing benches actually have not been allowed at Blue Springs Cemetery for years, cemetery officials say, but only recently have they tried to crack down on them.
As the amount of occupied land grows at the cemetery at 2800 SW Walnut St., which was established in 1834, it has become increasingly cumbersome, and costly, to keep up regular maintenance in an ever-growing cemetery due in part to many of those benches.
When June 15 rolls around, a number of free-standing benches will be removed from Blue Springs – if they haven't already been taken away by families of the plots where they reside.
The Blue Springs Cemetery Association has been alerting families of the change through public notices in The Examiner and signs at the cemetery.
“The maintenance and mowing dictates the biggest part of it,” said Steve McBride president and longest-tenured member of the association at more than 20 years. “It's a pretty big job to keep the grounds maintained, and it inhibits the mowers to mow in certain ways.
“It's all about being able to keep the place neat for everybody, and we're looking for ways to ease that burden. We've tried to discourage (free-standing benches), and we took a hard line about a year ago. We're trying to get people to cooperate. Some have taken them out, and some haven't.”
There are several benches that will be allowed to stay, particularly granite ones on a concrete base that are in line with other headstones. Benches that are incorporated into a headstone or serve as the actual monument at a gravesite are perfectly fine.
Several free-standing benches are in line with headstones but are not on a concrete base and are not sealed. Dedra Arlint, the cemetery's office manager who also is associated with Freeman Monument Co. in Cass County, demonstrated the instability of unsealed benches by using normal effort with one foot to push a flat top out of place. Some of those benches could potentially damage a headstone because of their proximity – sometimes a stone on an adjacent plot.
If a bench has been placed out in the grass, perpendicular to headstones, it's a major headache for a mower, and no matter where it is it would have to be trimmed around with a weed eater.
A free-standing granite bench at the gravesite of Mystika Fiedler, the Independence teen who died in a hill-jumping accident in 2000, is an exception because of its concrete base, sealing and its proximity to a road, allowing a mower to easily maneuver around it.
“We're not alone in having this type of issue,” McBride said. “If a bench is in the way, you have to turn around and go back, then come around from the other side – it can be obstructive. That's why we took the stance we did.
“The cemetery gets to be bigger and bigger every year, and as it continues to grow, becomes a bigger issue. Costs more every year to keep the maintenance up.”
Kevin Frisbie of Frisbie Monuments, which has an outlet nearby at the corner of U.S. 40 and White Cemetery Road, has placed numerous monuments in Blue Springs Cemetery. He questions the legality of the cemetery's current policy, given that the plots were sold to families and such a regulation wasn't enforced.
“They can't change the rules to what suits them,” he said. “They can't control it once they've sold it.
“It's a shame from the families' standpoint, because they didn't have good regulations to begin with.”
McBride said that for many years the interment authorization families have to sign includes a section that says obstructions of perpetual care are not allowed.
“We're responsible for the perpetual care,” he said. “If we can't mow, we can't keep care of it. I believe we're fully within our legal rights.”
Arlint said the cemetery tried to have people remove benches last year. On Memorial Day, she went around and taped a sign to each applicable bench – about 80 of them.
That didn't make a dent, so this year they placed the public notices in The Examiner. Contacting families can be difficult, Arlint and McBride said, if whole families have moved away or numbers and addresses have changed. In some cases, there is no living relative.
“In the last few years, we've made it clear to everyone coming in that we didn't allow benches, all too make maintenance easier,” McBride said. “Way back, nobody policed the bench thing. I've done a little research at other cemeteries. If you look at them, our rules are more lenient. We're not trying to be difficult for anyone at all, but you can’t please everybody.”
“Anybody that's inquired, we've tried to explain to them why we're doing this.”
Percentagewise, it's a small number of plots that are affected, McBride emphasized, and the maintenance (which is hired) is ongoing and will be needed long after he is alive.
“We're all volunteers,” he said of the Cemetery Association, “and we're entrusted with the general everyday running of it.
“We've got to do this forever, not just this month or this year,” he said. “I've got a lot of family there, and some day I'll be buried there. I'll want it to look nice then.”