Midway through last week, nature forged ahead in its relentless battle against Marion Cemetery sexton Tim Makovec.
Tall grass, in some sections headed out with seedpods, waved in the breeze between and around gravestones, obscuring names and decorations. Here and there, rogue weed stalks jutted three feet into the air.
Nature cared little that Marion crews diverted their attention the first part of the week to preparing Marion Airport for a weekend fly-in. The grass just kept growing.
Thursday, Makovec fought back in earnest with the tools of the groundskeeper’s trade: weed eaters, clippers, mowers, and gloved hands.
“It’s one of those things we’re transitioning how to do,” city administrator Roger Holter said. “God always changes priorities when it comes to mowing.”
The city once had a full-time sexton assigned year round to the cemetery, Holter said. That’s been changed to a full-time sexton in the summer months, supplemented with two part-timers.
“It’s now a coordinated effort between our park maintenance, cemetery, and airport maintenance for the mowing aspect,” Holter said. “The crew that does the mowing set priorities, so the first part of the week was out there at the airport.”
Crews use two different kinds of tractors to tackle the spaces they can maneuver in, but some older sections require mowing with a push mower, Holter said. Trimming around the markers takes a weed eater to accomplish.
“It actually takes Tim three days to weed-eat between the stones,” Holter said.
Complicating matters is the proliferation of permanent gravesite decorations in recent years. There are no rules limiting the type or placement of such decorations, so the addition of anything from children’s toys to solar-powered lighting creates additional work caring for those plots.
About five or six years ago the county discontinued a specified cemetery mill levy for cities. Maintenance funds now come from the city’s general fund.
Marion spent $27,414 on cemetery maintenance in 2014, Holter said.
The current budget is about $44,000, Holter said, which includes funds for replacing aged and ailing trees.
“Last fall Tim planted 16 new trees, and he has a plan to be planting one to three dozen additional trees,” Holter said.
Makovec is using hardwood varieties that stand up better in Kansas winds, Holter said.
Grave openings and closings are also Makovec’s responsibility, and he often works weekends to accommodate family needs.
“We’re very appreciative of his dedication,” Holter said.
Marion’s traditional, public-operated cemetery stands in contrast to a trend in other areas toward privately-operated cemeteries, Holter said. Many of those solve maintenance issues by allowing only ground-level markers that mowers can pass over.
“My parents, grandparents, and so forth, where they reside, the cemeteries are private,” Holter said. “A burial plot in our cemetery is $200. My parents’ plots were in excess of $10,000 apiece, with a portion of that for perpetual maintenance. There are advantages to small-town living and small-town dying.”
Holter said the city will continue to refine the use of city resources for the best possible upkeep of the cemetery.
“It’s very important to be respectful to those individuals who dedicated their entire lives to the development of this town,” he said.
Cemetery maintenance was a topic of discussion at the end of Marion City Council’s meeting Monday.
Councilman Chad Adkins said he had heard reports of unmowed grass covering gravestones.
After Holter explained that the grass had since been cut, councilwoman Melissa Mermis said she had heard someone say grass clippings were covering headstones. Holter said employees would use a leaf blower to clear clippings off the top of gravestones.
Holter added that part-time employees who helped throughout the summer had left, and the city was looking into hiring part-time help for the fall.