By Sean Rice
The ownership of Resthaven Memory Gardens, a cemetery on the outskirts of St. Marys, has been turned over to its home township by order of Mercer County Common Pleas Court.
Following the same path as Mercer Memory Gardens in Celina, Resthaven was declared abandoned by Judge Jeffrey Ingraham because of the lack of upkeep on behalf of the non-profit corporation that governed the two cemeteries. Also, Ingraham ordered the remaining trust account funds be split between the two cemeteries.
This week's order is the final judgment in the case, nearly two years after it started.
The Washington Township Trustees in Auglaize County will work to have the cemetery in presentable shape for Memorial Day weekend, Auglaize County Prosecuting Attorney Edwin Pierce said in a news release issued this week.
Washington Township Trustee Steve Kuck told The Daily Standard on Friday that a caretaker has been hired to manage the cemetery. Also, trustees are asking residents to remove flowers and decorations from grave sites prior to May 15, so the grass can be trimmed. Kuck said it could take a year to get the entire site in order. An overgrown mobile home sits in the rear of the property, partially blocking the view of dozens of concrete tombs stacked behind a downed fence. He said the trailer is unusable due to water damage and will be removed.
The St. Marys and Celina cemeteries were linked in ownership until 2002 under the non-profit corporation Mercer & Resthaven Memory Gardens Inc. Mercer Memory Gardens was declared abandoned in July 2002 and turned over to Jefferson Township.
Mercer & Resthaven Memory Gardens Inc. was created by court action following the imprisonment of the prior owners in 1995. 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 the two cemeteries, which went regularly unmowed as trash accumulated.
In a series of articles in May 2002, The Daily Standard discovered that two of three trustees of Mercer & Resthaven Memory Gardens Inc. were unaware that they were owners of the cemeteries and thought Foley owned it. The newspaper also discovered the nonprofit corporation status of both the cemeteries and Foley's company had lapsed.
Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Hinders reacted to the community outcry about foot-high grass and garbage cans overflowing with Christmas decorations as Memorial Day 2002 approached. Hinders filed for restraining orders against Foley and the non-profit corporation and put a freeze on the corporation's cemetery account.
Hinders said about $75,000 still remains in trust accounts to support the cemeteries. The funds will be split fairly, he said, with slightly more going to the larger Mercer Memory Gardens.
To assist in the ownership transfer, Washington Township Trustees are requesting that each resident with family in Resthaven Memory Gardens bring documentation on burial plot ownership to the prosecutor's office during regular business hours.
"Unfortunately, this cemetery has been deteriorating for many years and only through the action of Washington Township was there the immediate prospect of it once again becoming a solemn and respected resting place for our deceased community members," Pierce wrote.