Families devastated by change in cemetery bylaws

Submitted photo of shepherds hooks removed from Lewistown Cemetery the day before Mother's Day

Visiting the resting places of our loved ones at a cemetery can bring sadness but also a sense of peace and comfort.

Some loved ones in Lewistown have anger and frustration to add to those emotions during their visits these days.

Crews removed shepherds hooks, flowers, stone markers and other decorations and placed them in and near a dumpster at Lewistown Cemetery the day before Mother's Day.

Becky Fleer spends a lot of time and money decorating her parents and brother's graves in the Lewistown Cemetery.

"It's my family," she said. "I was raised to take care of my family's grave. My mom did it, and she's gone. It falls to me. It's my responsibility to take care of it."

Her mother passed away 12 years ago. At that time, she and her dad brought a shepherds hook for the grave, but someone stole it. They bought another one and placed it in concrete to prevent theft. She was shocked and outraged over what she found last weekend.

"Over the weekend, someone from the cemetery board dug up that shepherds hook that had been in the ground for 12 years," Fleer said. "I was really upset."

Fleer isn't alone. Debbie Hudnut, whose father is buried at the Lewistown Cemetery is furious.

"I feel if you own the lot, you should be able to decorate as you'd like," she said. "It's your plot, it's your property, so I don't feel that the cemetery board should be able to make those decisions without asking the land owner. It's your land, so maybe you should be able to decorate it as you feel that you should."

Hudnut attended last month's Lewistown Cemetery Board meeting.

She said the board changed the bylaws last year and implemented them this month.

A notice posted throughout town basically states that families can only decorate their loved one's graves during winter and one month out of the year, which falls between May 15th through June 15th.

That means families can't even decorate the graves for mother's day, father's day or any other special occasion that falls outside of that timeline.

"We lost a daughter and now all we can do is put flowers in her vase at certain times of the year," Harriet Cary said. "We can't show her we love her, and it's just heartbreaking. They told us it was our plot, we could do anything with it. I hope each and every one of those cemetery board members never have to bury a child or grandchild because it is heart-wrenching."

"I feel horrible that I cannot bring things out to her grave whenever I want," Jesse Cary said. "She was a beautiful little girl, and I feel like her grave deserves to be beautiful, too."

KHQA spoke with the Lewistown Cemetery Board President Earl Kempe.

He said a newer part of the Lewistown Cemetery has never allowed shepherds hooks and decorations.

Kempe said the seven board members wanted to implement those rules for the entire cemetery.

He said the board tried to inform families that crews would remove the decorations and shepherds hooks May 10.

The Lewistown Cemetery Board is responsible for the cemetery's upkeep, and he says mowing and trimming are a big cost.

The board hopes the new rules will make it easier to mow and trim the cemetery.