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05-30-03: Auglaize County joins
cemetery court action
|By SEAN RICE
The Daily Standard
Nearly a year after Mercer Memory Gardens cemetery was declared
abandoned and turned over to Jefferson Township, officials in Auglaize County are joining
the Mercer County suit, in an attempt to declare Resthaven Memory Gardens near St. Marys
The two cemeteries were linked in ownership until a year ago under the
non-profit corporation Mercer & Resthaven Memory Gardens Inc. In July 2002, Mercer
County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Ingraham declared Mercer Memory Gardens on Mud
Pike in Celina abandoned. Resthaven cemetery near St. Marys was not included in the
Mercer & Resthaven Memory Gardens Inc. was created following the
criminal convictions of the prior owners in 1995. Reliance Guild, a company run by Patrick
Foley, of Columbus, was contracted by the non-profit corporation to be the caretaker of
both cemeteries. For several years, community members complained of the unkempt appearance
of Mercer Memory Gardens.
In a series if articles last year, The Daily Standard discovered that
two of the three trustees of Mercer & Resthaven Memory Gardens Inc were unaware that
they were owners of the cemetery and thought Foley owned it. The newspaper also discovered
that the corporate status of both the cemeteries and Foley's company had lapsed.
In subsequent court motions in Mercer County, the cemetery just outside
Celina was declared abandoned and associated bank accounts were frozen.
A funeral director in the area told the newspaper that Foley remains
the contact person when a grave needs to be opened in St. Marys. Funeral directors contact
Foley by leaving a message on an answering machine in Columbus.
Foley has never responded to messages from The Daily Standard.
He was in court last week when the motion for Auglaize County to join
the court action was announced, Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders said.
Auglaize County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Pierce filed a motion seeking
to join Resthaven in the case started by Hinders, who is working on behalf of the
Jefferson Township Trustees. Pierce is acting on behalf of the Washington Township
Trustees in Auglaize County.
"What the trustees are looking for is that the cemetery in
Auglaize County be declared abandoned and the title be transferred to the Washington
Township Trustees," Pierce said Wednesday.
Until a group of community members in Auglaize County cleaned up
Resthaven on Saturday, grass often was mowed by individuals and trash containers
overflowed with discarded decorations. In the rear of the cemetery, there is an overgrown
mobile home with a collapsed fence around it, exposing stacks of dozens of cement burial
tombs. The porch of the trailer has a tree growing through it and headstones are piled
Pierce said Ingraham still needs to approve the motion to intervene,
but he has been assured that will happen.
Hinders contacted Pierce last year asking for him to become involved on
behalf of Washington Township. The Auglaize County cemetery needs to included in the case
because trust funds that support Memory Gardens also support Resthaven.
"For us to do this and leave the trust fund balance to the
corporation leaves the case half done," Hinders said of the case, which is held in a
folder four inches thick.
No decisions have been made on exactly how to split the remaining cash
in trust accounts, which was last known to be near $75,000, but Resthaven Cemetery is
larger than Memory Gardens.
Hinders said he has not found any discrepancies in the layout of the
cemetery plots or evidence that the trust fund money was improperly handled.
"I think this is a really nice thing to occur, this latest
entrant," Hinders said, adding that the case on both cemeteries may soon be closed.
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