Readers’ Views

Preserve Lakeside Cemetery as a resource

To the Editor:

Recently, I had need to be considering the “final resting places” of a number of my relatives, beginning with my paternal great-grandparents, John F. and Rebecca L. Palmer, who homesteaded in Pleasant Prairie in 1882, later living, and dying, in Fairmont; but also the final resting places for my paternal grandparents, my parents, four uncles and aunts, other more distant relatives, and my sister, buried since 2003, all in Lakeside Cemetery. And not incidentally, my expected “final resting place,” in due course.

Googling “Lakeside Cemetery,” I first noted a Sentinel article from November 2023 about the financial crisis the cemetery is in. I assume that the “situation” is well-known to county residents, most emphatically to the many county and regional residents who have relatives buried there, maybe expecting to join them there “in due course.” These are the obvious stakeholders, whose stakes are familial….and moral, spiritual, aesthetic if you will. There are some other stakeholders who perhaps don’t yet know that they may need a nice-looking and functional municipal cemetery as one of the customary amenities to be expected in a nice, substantial, economically-viable city that maybe they have just moved to.

But there are stakeholders who have no such connections to Lakeside Cemetery. They are the people of the City of Fairmont and of Martin County who have a big (50+ acres) landscaped “park-like” entity sitting across George Lake from their near-downtown that would be “an eyesore upon an eyesore” if the place were allowed to become poorly-maintained, dysfunctional, or “abandoned,” just across the lake. (Not quite as bad as it might be across Sisseton from the Courthouse, but bad enough).

Researching further, I was glad to find in the Sentinel for mid-April (and then in the Minutes of the Martin County Commissioners for April 2, 2024) that the Commissioners had voted, “as a one-time thing” a grant of $50,400 with the hope expressed by at least one member that this would resolve the “situation” and maybe it would now “go away.” No such luck, methinks. Cemeteries all over the country are in trouble, partly because casket burial and services are less income-generating than cremation and disposition into urns and maybe columbaria. And expenses going up, and religious affiliation getting more complicated, and rural areas gradually emptying of lots of people. And as I say, functioning cemeteries with burial plots selling, burials available, professional staff to do that and keep the place mowed, cleaned up, and attractive, is an amenity for a proper economic entity that has ambitions to remain energized. I think I detected a grudging minimal effort in April from the Commissioners, and I think all of you, and your stakeholder and non-stakeholder constituents, will need to rethink the situation with serious long term commitment.

I have also been looking this month at the fate of a small cemetery in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my mother’s family is from and some relatives may be buried. This is the Schoolcraft Cemetery, and as it happens I commend to you Commissioners the link to the short 7-1/2 minute video of what an “Abandoned Cemetery” looks like to wander through <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If5_y6oqavQ>. I commend it to the readers of the Sentinel and the residents and commuters across George Lake of what could happen if Lakeside Cemetery Association should stop operating, and the place were allowed to be inadequately maintained.

One way or another, probably with a multi-pronged effort of donors with a “stake”, active volunteers to operate the Association and manage its books, and adequately-paid employees and contractors…..and municipal and county financial support, Lakeside needs to be properly preserved with adequate and ongoing real money and commitment. Even if a non-resident of Martin County, I am an “interested party” and I hope you will not dismiss my stakeholder interest because I do not live and vote there.

Richard R. Palmer, MD


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