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A grave situation

Two years after it was extensively vandalized, the historic Central Point Cemetery remains an eyesore.

A newly formed group of concerned citizens dubbed the "Friends and Families of the Central Point Cemetery," say they are concerned that despite promises, little has been done to maintain or repair the cemetery.

While the cemetery has long lacked adequate care, Dirk Seidlecki, of the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries, visited the cemetery recently and said he was disappointed to see it in such a sad state.

Seidlecki formed the "friends" group to spread awareness about the poor condition of the cemetery, organize volunteer efforts, and monitor plans by cemetery owners to make long-needed repairs and relinquish ownership.

While members of the Central Point Masonic Lodge maintained the cemetery for a number of years, local lawyers Aaron Nadauld and Damian Idiart acquired the 7-acre property in 2007 and announced plans to recruit local churches and families to maintain the property.

But in the past half-dozen years, minimal cleanup has taken place and extensive damage to some 50 headstones by a pair of young boys in March 2011 has gone unrepaired.

A bone of contention among the cemetery supporters is the nearly $5,000 in restitution paid by the families of the two boys who broke and tipped over the headstones. The money has not been used to make needed repairs.

Seidlecki noted the contrast in condition between the cemetery and the adjacent Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial.

"What's ironic and very, very sad is that there are a lot of veterans in that cemetery, right alongside this beautiful memorial where veterans are being honored," Seidlecki said.

Contacted last week, the cemetery owners, in a message to the Mail Tribune, said they intended to make repairs in coming months, when warmer temperatures would allow bonding agents to fully cure. Idiart said he and Nadauld were in negotiations with the city and hoped another party would step forward to take ownership.

"We want to transfer the property to someone else and have been working with the city to do so," Idiart said.

"The money the boys paid for restitution will be used to take care of the headstones."

Seidlecki said a volunteer cleanup effort wouldn't hurt the lawyers' chances of relinquishing the property and that repairs should have been made more than a year ago, when the restitution was paid. Allowing the damage to go unrepaired, he said, encourages further vandalism and reflects poorly on the city.

"Like any real estate, a property is more likely to attract an owner if in better shape. If they're trying to get someone to take it over, there's a lot that needs to be done here," he said.

Seidlecki also noted the lack of repairs had created some dangers that might not be evident. He said a number of the headstones have been propped up or set back in place but are not secured.

"The problem is that somebody, not knowing what's happened, could come in and put their hand on the stone as they walk by and they could end up with a broken leg or worse," he said. "There was a young child in Colorado in July, 4 years old, where a monument fell over and killed him. We just want people to be aware."

While the city has entertained the option of taking over the cemetery, Mayor Hank Williams said the idea, with a change in council members in the November election, was "sort of put on hold."

Public works and parks manager Matt Samitore said this week that staff estimates for upkeep of the cemetery were around $30,000 annually and that the headstones would first need to be repaired for the city to consider a role in cemetery upkeep. Samitore said the present focus of the council was to ensure weed abatement to minimize fire danger.

Williams said a survey sent to city residents showed a little more than 50 percent supported the idea of a $1 monthly fee to care for the cemetery. But, he said, council consensus is that the city should not take over cemetery ownership.

"I would take it over if we could get it done right, but we'd have to understand what it would cost," Williams said. "By June 1, I would like to find out what care of a pioneer cemetery consists of.

"People want running water and lots of cement and pioneer cemeteries didn't have that kind of stuff. I would like to see the city take it over as a pioneer cemetery, but I am just one person. I'm just one vote."

Don Bohnert, a member of the "friends" group, said a number of his family members' plots were awaiting repair. Bohnert voiced frustration at the stark comparison between the nearby city park and the final resting place of many of the city's founders.

"It's just really a disgusting-looking place and right next to that nice park and the memorial," Bohnert said.

"To have some of our pioneer families buried there and for this cemetery to be in the shape it's in — we've just got to get it straightened out."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Dirk Siedlecki walks past a damaged headstone in the historic Central Point Cemetery. Supporters of efforts to maintain and repair the cemetery say they are dismayed that badly needed work on the site has not occurred. - Julia Moore