After a meeting Sunday of more than 180 interested people seeking a resolution to the deteriorating condition of a Monroe cemetery, it looks like progress is finally being made.
Preston Breedlove called for the meeting Sunday after trying for many months to get Westlawn Memorial Cemetery on Highway 11 in Monroe restored to a good condition. He told the attendees that he had begun a quest to get something done more than a year ago – at first speaking to the owner of Georgia Memorial Parks, Inc., the holding company of the cemetery, before resorting to contacting state officials. He said up until a few days ago, his efforts had proved fruitless.
“I contacted the Secretary of State, the state cemetarian in Macon, Ga. I did that on Jan 11 last year. I got a reply from them on Sep. 6 last year,” he said, adding after getting a generic response that basically told him they were looking into it, but not to expect a response anytime soon, he went to the media. He called for the meeting, shared it on Facebook and a story ran in the Walton Tribune. That, he said, seemed to have got the attention of Gene Kelly, majority owner of Georgia Memorial Parks, Inc. Breedlove said late last week, four people were up at the cemetery working on the landscaping.
Kelly contacted Breedlove and the two met the day before Sunday’s meeting to discuss how to proceed. At the meeting, Breedlove also shared a letter he had received from Kelly outlining plans to proceed with repairs and restoration of the cemetery.
“Westlawn Memorial Cemetery is fully aware of the concerns expressed by families regarding maintenance at the cemetery. Work is currently underway to address these issues. Bronze Memorials that have sunk into the ground over the years are being raised to bring them back to ground level. This will improve the appearance of memorials as well as facilitate the removal of grass from granite bases,” Kelly wrote in the letter.
While many were upset and suggested going to larger media outlets, it was decided at the meeting to form a committee going forward. Cindy Little, who put her name down to serve on the committee, suggested they give Kelly a timeline to get the work done and rather try to resolve it that way.
“I say we as a group set him a deadline – let’s give him give an opportunity to fix this. I’d give him a deadline then give him a chance. I think at this point we’ve got his attention,” Little said, going on to outline a military funeral recently where soldiers had been burdened by fire ants during the ceremony. Other issues in need of repairs include potholes in the drive and walkways as well as landscaping. She said, however, that she felt if the committee could work with Kelly on a timeline to rectify the situation, it would be best for everyone concerned.
Kelly said he appreciates those who are prepared to work with him to get the matter rectified and he has since had another meeting with Breedlove and is working on a to do list.
“The immediate needs being addressed are obvious appearance needs. We recently started raising bronze memorials up to ground level to facilitate trimming around the granite bases on which the memorials are mounted. We are already seeking bids on repairing potholes,” Kelly said, adding that the problem with fire ants also is being addressed. “We will be working toward a solution to eliminate them. Turf grass is of several kinds have emerged and spread over the years. We will be seeking professional guidance on improving that situation as well as adding some decorative plants. The weeds in the round ‘feature’ to the left rear of the cemetery, near Alton Green Road, will be cut back and replaced with something decorative. Broken sidewalks will be repaired. Missing bricks, etc., on features will be replaced. Dead or dying shrubbery and trees will be removed and replaced.”
Westlawn Memorial Cemetery was founded in 1955 by Kelly’s father and he and other family members inherited it when his father passed away. Kelly said he would like to restore the cemetery to a marketable condition and then try to sell it. He is, however, concerned that adverse publicity surrounding its current condition could negatively impact that.
“I do realize that it is mostly of my own making, but I would like to make it right and then sell it if I can,” he said.
As is required by Georgia law and is the case with all cemeteries, Kelly said a trust fund was set up when the cemetery was first established.
“Westlawn’s perpetual care fund was established when the cemetery began operating in the early 1950s. Initially the cemetery was required to deposit 10 percent of the selling price of all graves into the fund. That percentage was raised to 15 percent in 2000. Once a certain percentage of available lots have been sold, a percentage of the income from the trust may be used for care and maintenance. Withdrawal of principal for care and maintenance must be approved by the Secretary of State,” Kelly said. “All required deposits to the PCF have been met and in a timely manner. This has to be reported to the state annually.”
Kelly did not say when he hoped to be able to put the cemetery on the market, but he did apologize for Westlawn’s failures of the past and gave assurances that things will be better in the future. He said that there are many lots still available and it will be decades before the cemetery reaches full capacity.