OnFocus – Residents who are still waiting for answers regarding actions taken by the City of Marshfield at Hillside Cemetery – where loved one’s cherished personal items were cleared from gravesites for the first time in decades – spoke at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.
During the meeting, residents spoke about their heartbreak and disappointment in how the City handled the emotional situation.
“I want answers of why they did what they did to the cemetery,” said Nancy Hodsdon during the public comment period. “Why did they take down my dad’s shepherd’s hook that’s been up there for 18 years? Why did they take down my grandson’s shepherd’s hook that’s been up there for however many years? How can I now put any kind of decoration up?”
Hodsdon highlighted the discrepancy between this year’s actions and those taken in previous decades.
“For over 18 years, everybody would pick up all of their flowers and clippings and other stuff, but we were still allowed to keep that shepherd’s hook in there,” she said. “What right did they have to take a statue off the top of a grave and break it? What right did they have to go and take flowers out of vases on a grave? What right did they have to throw them in that heap of garbage for us to go through and pick and try and find our loved one’s items? There was broken lanterns, there was chimes, there was American flags lying on the ground that they threw.”
She added that one resident had even gone through the pile to dispose of haphazardly discarded American flags in the proper way.
“It was heart wrenching to go there and see your loved one’s items thrown in a heap,” she added. “Granted, you have rules, but what was this stuff hurting? If you cannot snowplow and see a shepherd’s hook, then I suggest you find someone that can see.”
She added that every year, there is a memorial for stillborn babies held at the cemetery and that items had been discarded from that memorial area.
“They took every single one of those little tiny items that people took up there to remember their little loved one when they couldn’t afford a regular gravesite,” she said. “You’re not going to tell me that’s not disrespectful. Something needs to be done. And somebody needs to pay for the damage.”
Hodsdon also questioned why the City went about the cleanup the way they did, and highlighted comments made by Parks Director Justin Casperson.
“They should have went about this all different,” she said. “And Mr. Casperson, his comment was ‘How do you get a hold of these people? We don’t have the time.’…well, make time.”
Tiffany Zawislan also spoke during the public comment period. Fighting back tears, she shared how her son had been buried at the cemetery more then 10 years ago and how everything she had left for him during that time period had been tossed.
“Every year, we have certain times of the year that we honor him in special ways. To find out that his birthday presents that we had put up by him were gone and laying in a pile of other loved one’s…going through that pile was the most heart wrenching thing I’ve ever done since losing my son,” she said. “Now I feel like I can’t even celebrate those special moments with him.”
Zawislan also questioned why the rules had been enforced differently this year and why, if so many items still remained, the City hadn’t made a better renewed effort to communicate.
“My feeling is, how would they feel if I went onto their property and took something out of their yard? That’s my child’s home for the rest of his life. That’s his house. That’s not their home. I would never go into somebody’s yard or home to do anything like that. They disturbed his resting place. I understand October 1 all things need to be gone and we have followed that. [Former Cemetery Sexton] Mike Baltus always allowed us to have a shepherd’s hook. It’s a shepherd’s hook that sticks 6 feet out of the ground.”
She added that she hopes something is done about the way the issue was handled.
After last night’s meeting, OnFocus reached out to Parks & Recreation Director Justin Casperson for his feedback and to inquire about actions being taken to remedy the situation.
“As for the number of people upset by the cemetery cleanup, we have and will continue to work with families on resolving any issues that occurred,” he said. “Many of the people who have contacted us are upset at first, but they understand and appreciate the efforts taken to clean-up the cemetery and we come to a resolution.”
He said that anyone who is upset should contact the department directly, via 715-384-4642 or [email protected]
“Some of the people who are still upset have not talked to us directly, so it is difficult to help resolve their concerns,” he added. “Some people take to social media websites and write strong comments, but never reach out to us directly. Please contact our Department so we can address your specific situation.”
Casperson said that the department has learned from the situation.
“As for the handling of the cemetery clean-up it is something everyone has learned from,” he said. “We will continue to improve communication, signage and to talk to the funeral home directors, churches and the many, many thoughtful and kind people in the community who take great care of their loved ones gravesites.”
“We have and we will continue to sympathize and work with those people who are upset about their situation. We apologize for any heartache or grief that was caused by cemetery cleanup. Please contact us directly so we can try to find a resolution at 715-384-4642 or [email protected],” he added.
Casperson added that cemetery staff “take their jobs seriously” and are not “tone deaf.”
“They make every attempt to beautify, improve, clean and keep the cemetery safe. No one takes joy in removing items from gravesites; however, to keep things from becoming tawdry, the items needed to be removed at some point,” he said. “Striking a balance between honoring our loved ones and respecting the entire cemetery is not easy. There are some negative attributes of our job, but this is by the far worst. Death and morning of loved ones who have passed, is highly sensitive and extremely emotional, and something we care deeply about. Don’t believe what certain people say or write on social media websites, we can understand, sympathize and appreciate everyone’s situation and we will work with the families on coming to a resolution.”
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