Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Cemetery construction project upsets widow

Headstone removal was to protect it, cemetery district says

Express Staff Writer

Ginny Clements noticed something wasn't right as she drove up state Highway 75 past the Ketchum Cemetery this summer.

Clements' late husband is buried in the cemetery north of town, but the angel marking his gravesite was not in its usual place.

"I'm thinking, 'Oh, it's my eyes or something,' but I look over, and I don't see the angel," she said. "You can imagine how I felt."

She at first thought the angel and headstone had been stolen. She later learned that the Ketchum Cemetery District had moved them, and a number of other headstones, during construction of a new columbarium.

"The reason we moved the headstones was so the graves were not encumbered by construction," said Jerry Ann Heaney, cemetery district board member. If a tool or piece of equipment were to drop on a headstone and damage it, the cemetery district would have to replace it.

"The cemetery owns the property and is responsible for the maintenance and care of it," Heaney said. "The whole idea of moving them was to protect them during construction. They will be replaced as soon as construction is completed in that area."

The headstones should be replaced by late winter, she said.

The construction of the columbarium—a vault that houses urns—is part of a $1 million cemetery improvement project. A new administration building, two columbariums, and landscaping and parking improvements are planned.

Some of the other relatives of people buried in the cemetery were notified of the headstone removals.

Clements, a part-time resident of Ketchum, was not made aware of the decision.

"None of us personally knew her and didn't have records of her name," Heaney said. "We wrote her an apology for causing her any distress."

Clements, however, said that her distress has been considerable.

"They were irresponsible in handling the whole thing," she said.

Although a person owns a headstone, "we can move that headstone without their permission for maintenance purposes," Heaney said.

"We contacted our attorney in Boise and that's the reading we got," said board member Joel Graff. "We can move it because we're responsible for what would happen to it."

The district has received no other complaints, Graff said.

Clements also expressed frustration over the location of the columbarium, saying it will obstruct the view of Bald Mountain from her late husband's plot.

"When I bought the plot, I bought it for the view," she said. "When you lose a loved one, you want the very best."

While construction will continue to infringe on the quiet of people's final resting place, Heaney said the effort will be worth it.

"What we're doing is for the common good," she said.

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