Rival associations at odds over Monteagle graveyard care

Rival associations at odds over Monteagle graveyard care

May 7th, 2011 by Ben Benton in News

MONTEAGLE, Tenn. - Two cemetery associations are squabbling over maintenance, upkeep and $150,000 sitting in the bank for perpetual care of the 3,000-plus graves in Monteagle Cemetery.

"This whole situation started last Mother's Day," said Kay Ramsey, president of the older Monteagle Cemetery Association Inc. and a member for 21 years.

"I did not have the cemetery mowed on Mother's Day," Ramsey said. "It didn't sit well with some people."

Ramsey said some people who formed a new association in December and have tried to raise money in the cemetery's name would like to see more done with maintenance.

Debbie Shrum, president of the new Monteagle Cemetery Association, declined comment.

"I don't really want to talk about this at this point," Shrum said last week.

Today, visitors walk shallow paths scooped out by decades of passing feet between headstones dating back as far as the 1800s and others just erected over fresh graves. The cemetery's older side has ancient trees with branches spreading out over ornate and weather-worn tombstones and small stone markers.

Ramsey said she was recovering from two surgeries and chemotherapy as Mother's Day 2010 approached, and her daughter had just informed her she was moving to China for a year.

"Things just overwhelmed me, and I just did not remember it was Mother's Day until my daughter called me the night of Mother's Day and said, 'Happy Mother's Day,'" she said.

Ramsey said she believes a political element exists in the dispute but the main focus is the $150,000 held in savings for perpetual care. She said she understands the other group would like to spend the money on improvements such as fencing and work on some of the cemetery roads.

So far, none of the money has been used for upkeep, she said.

"I think that's part of the problem, too," she said. "People want to know why isn't it fenced, why haven't we done that, why haven't we done this."

But Ramsey says the $150,000 in savings is not enough to pay for care once the remaining 1,000 or so grave sites are sold.

Michelle Russell, a member of the older association's board of directors, said the aim now is to get everyone on the same side again for the sake of the cemetery.

"We're going to clean it up by Memorial Day and try to heal the wounds between the groups," Russell said.

"Memorial Day is always a big day in the community, and the community should not be divided like this," she said. "We should put this to bed."