Dedicated to Preserving Cemetery Burial Grounds- Grounds crews – real unsung heroes at a cemetery

Written by Dan Moran. Posted in Community News & People in the News, Featured

Published on August 08, 2019 with No Comments

Calumet Park Cemetery grounds superintendent Tim McClure (left) and Jeremy Grant, assistant superintendent.

Cemeteries and funeral homes are much more complicated than might be expected by the general population.  For now, I would like to let you in on what it takes to make a cemetery worthy of being named the number one cemetery in the country for 2018.

Calumet Park owns over 400 acres of land.  As of this year (founded in 1928 with first burial in 1929), approximately 175 acres of land have been developed for burials. In these 91 years, we have completed the final arrangements and burials of 50,746 individuals, or an average of 573 burials per year.

Calumet Park requires a triple check system for locating the proper grave to be prepared.  Once the location is confirmed as being 100-percent correct, a team digs the grave, usually with an oversized backhoe.  The dirt is taken away from the area, as many people do not like to think of so much dirt piled on their loved one.  An outer container is placed in the freshly dug grave, usually a vault of varying degrees of protection against the entry of water and insects and other gravesite elements from penetrating into the casket.  It is designed to hold up the earth from caving in, and is required for every ground burial at Calumet Park.  Graves are approximately six feet deep.

The lid is placed to the side until after the committal service is complete.  There is a set-up involved that ensures against the collapse of the grave before dirt is brought back to cover the grave.  Next, a lowering device is set over the open grave from which the casket will be lowered into the vault at the appropriate time at the conclusion of the committal service.  A committal service simply means the gathering of friends and relatives to witness the commitment of their loved one to their final resting place.

The next step is to place “greens,” or artificial grass, around the grave to improve the appearance of the grave for the committal service.  Finally, a tent is set up that helps to shield the immediate family from the elements, such as rain and intense heat in the summer.  Once the committal service is complete and the funeral director thanks all for coming, those in attendance are dismissed.  The grounds crew then comes back to the site to complete the burial and place the flowers on the mounded earth left to settle.  The set-up procedure is reversed and the burial is complete.  Over the following couple of weeks, weather permitting, additional dirt is brought in to level the grave with a final layer of topsoil, grass seed and a special covering to speed up the growth of grass seed, placed on the fresh grave.

There is a tremendous amount of cemetery maintenance that is tended to every day.  There are well over 100,000 markers, upright monuments, shrubs, trees and seemingly unending acres of grass to be mowed.  Think of what is involved in making your own lawn look nice and usually a yard is not filled with things rising up from the land that need to be trimmed around.  There are over five miles of two-way roads that have to be maintained, including snow removal and pot hole repair or repaving of blacktop throughout the cemetery as needed

Trucks and backhoes and earth movers of different sizes are used daily, along with hand tools and snow removal equipment.  As in life outside the cemetery, machines break down and need to be repaired or replaced at some pretty hefty price tags.  There are many different skill levels needed to keep it all going.  Tim McClure, superintendent, and Jeremy Grant, assistant superintendent, work with a crew of permanent workers, and in the spring, summer and fall the work force doubles to help keep pace with the never-ending job of grass cutting and trimming.

Add to all of the daily tasks, the grounds crew is responsible for setting flush markers and foundations for upright monuments, along with the setting of those monuments.  This is backbreaking work and must be handled with care and precision.

At Calumet Park, the grounds crew helps to take care of ground maintenance at our three funeral homes, as well as building maintenance on three funeral homes, two crematories and a massive office/administration building.  Clean-up after storms, including downed trees and branches, along with continuous sweeps of the cemetery to empty waste cans, is part of the daily routine.

Many times, the people in green shirts deal with complaining family members when a marker is not at the level that they want it to be. An expensive and time-consuming part of running the cemetery is keeping up with this concern.  Calumet Park Cemetery offers free leveling of markers by simply stopping at the office to write up a work order.  It is financially impossible to raise and level every marker even once per year, and even if you did spend the millions it would take to do so, the initial markers would have sunk again or have grass go over them.

Throughout the year, Calumet Park has many community-oriented events, from Memorial Weekend to Butterfly Release program to 5k runs to Veterans Day activity to Fishing for Memories programs to fireworks. Who else but the grounds crew is there to set up what needs setting up, to control traffic, to ensure proper reverence is paid to those interred here and to make safe all who attend.

So, the purpose of this story is that these men and women work extremely hard and extremely conscientiously for the benefit of every family that chooses Calumet Park as their final resting place.  As I write these words, the heat index in the region is 110 degrees.  The team sweats it off, drinks a lot of water, and work on as your servant.  In winter, with windchills last year as low as 40 degrees below zero, burials still needed to be made, snow still needed to be removed, trash still needed to be cleared and so on and so on.

The old saying of walk in another man’s shoes before you criticize their work hold true in the case of the grounds crew.  I totally appreciate the hard labor and success this team of worthy people exercise on a daily basis (5.5 days per week). So, when you see one of the workers out in any and all kinds of weather, it is okay for you to thank them and what the heck, offer them a bottle of cold water if you have one to spare.   They are working for each and every person and their families that elect to use Calumet Park and all affiliates.

Lastly, without you as trusted and loyal families, there would be no need for any of us inside the gates of Calumet Park to even show up for work.  So, we thank you for your patronage.


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