Families angered over condition of cemetery

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI) - As our nation pauses to remember those killed fighting for our freedom on this Memorial Day, conditions at a north St. Louis County cemetery left local families who went to pay respects to loved ones devastated.

Oak Grove Cemetery was built in 1919, and serves as a resting place for thousands of influential St. Louisans.  It used to be a place where family members were proud to bury their loved ones, but some say that’s no longer the case.

For 76 years now, Layton Breitweiser has spent every Memorial Day at Oak Grove Cemetery, paying his respects to family.  Now, his son Neal comes with him too.

But this Memorial Day, the father and son could barely find their family plot. The headstones were shrouded in weeds, and covered with debris.  Neal Breitweiser says, “This is what we set today aside for every year. So to come here and see my grandmother and my grandfather buried there, and with the weeds, it’s horrible. It’s just disrespecting our family. So we cancelled our plans, came back and did something about it, because we had to.”

The Breitweisers postponed their holiday barbecue, and went home to get their lawn equipment.  The two spent hours cleaning up the gravesite themselves.  “There were several other families doing the same thing,” adds Breitweiser.

It’s not just the hidden headstones that are upsetting to these families.  Knee-deep weeds cover the cemetery’s rolling hills.  Potholes fill the meandering roads, and large, dead trees pepper the lush landscape.

“It’s always been a place that you want to go in memory of your loved ones, but when you see them, it makes you sad that their gravesites are in such sad shape. They deserve more than that,” explains Terri Betts, who says she’s seen the cemetery go downhill in recent years.

Another family member, Alexander Oliver, adds, “I’m looking at this and wondering, what has happened, and why these people haven’t maintained the plot for our loved ones, which have went on to glory, and I am very, very upset over this after coming out  here for Memorial Day.”

If the situation at Oak Grove doesn’t improve soon, the four generations of Breitweisers buried there might be the last.  Breitweiser explains, “My father and I were discussing that today. He said to me, for the first time in his life, I don’t know if I want to be buried here.  He’s supposed to go right there. And now he’s giving it second thought because, look at this.”

What’s most upsetting to Breitweiser is that when his great-grandparents purchased these plots, the plots came with a contract, promising that Oak Grove would care for their graves forever.

FOX 2 reached out to the cemetery’s owner, Marilyn Stanza, who took the cemetery over from her ailing husband in 1995.  She insisted that the grass would be mowed later this week, but seemed overwhelmed by complaints and financial obligations.

Stanza said it would cost millions to fix the potholes and other issues with the cemetery, and if anyone has any suggestions or financial solutions, to let her know.

You can follow Rebecca Roberts on Twitter and Facebook:
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  • Wow

    While I understand this is touchy subject for many people, there are much worse cemeteries out there around the country than this one. I was just at one this weekend that has a cow pasture that has taken over a piece of the cemetery and the cows have knocked over some of the headstones. Headstones that have sunken underground and a small sink whole in the middle of it also burden this same one.

  • Teresa

    My grandma, grandpa and aunt are buried there. A few years ago, I couldn’t even find my aunt’s stone, figuring it grew into the ground. I guess I’ll have to go and make sure things are in order and clean up . This is a shame.

  • Warren Montgomery

    We have a volunteer group here in Franklin County and we go out and repair cemeteries that fall into this state. It would be great if there were more group to go out and do what we do. We have seen so many that have been neglected for decades.

  • Jo Bolhofner

    I wonder why the cemeteries were bad this year, I went to put flowers on a grave in New St. Marcus and it looked terrible compared what it looked like last year. Tall grass down trees. I was truly disgusted and upset.

  • jad

    Good grief grow up everybody, every cemetery will look like this one someday…no way could they keep it up forever. The 250 bucks you spent on the plot in 1924 is long gone and spent. Burial is so primitive, get a life. All that money people spend on funerals is such a waste all to make millions of maggots happy. Make a living person happy and give it to your kids or a nice charity. Cremation or liquid cremation is the only way to go. What a waste of good land. Check out the cemetery in Ventura, California…it got so bad they city tore out all the tombstones and statues, put a layer of grass over it and now people picnic and play baseball on it. Two thirds of the people who go there don’t even know it use to be a cemetery. As land in towns become more scarce this will happen more often. And by the way, for those who complain about what your cemetery looks like fix it up yourselves if it means that much to you stop complaining to the poor lady that owns it, she obviously can’t afford to do it herself anymore. Give her a break. By the way, I hate to tell you but your loved ones are dead…that can’t hear or see you and I doubt if they really care you come to visit. They live in your head and your memories not 6 feet under the ground.

    • USN Sailor

      Take it from someone who has seen loved ones pass on, it doesn’t matter that eventually cementeries fall into disrepair, in my opinion no one should have to go see a gravesite in such disrepair. You cannot say you would be just upset if you went to visit a loved one and found the tombstone or gravesite in terrible condition. I go visit my family at Jefferson barracks every year and every year I’m proud of where they are buried and proud if the fact that some day I will be buried there as well. You need to stop telling people to get over it. That is their family and all they want is what they where promised.

  • Steven Sweeney

    Every single time you see one of these stories, it’s a cemetery up north. They take the money, and don’t keep up the property.Eventually volunteers go up there and bail them out. Tired of it.Funerals and burial are OUTRAGEOUS and they shysters just pocket the money and wait for the cavalry. Charge them with grand larceny since so much money is involved and that grass will get cut quickly.

  • Barb

    I have my parents, grandparents, aunts uncles, cousins etc. buried at Oak Grove. It used to be considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries. It fell into the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to take care of it properly. My husband paid to have my fathers stone raised when tree roots caused it to sink. It is a disgrace to let it go to ruin and my heart aches to see it the way it is now. There was an article in the news sometime ago where people paid the cemetery to put flowers on graves and the owners pocketed the money and never left flowers. It needs to be maintained on a regular basis. If a group came in and straightened it up it would look the same as it does now in a matter of weeks. We paid the cemetery to take care of it and they should.

  • jane crumpet

    This is not the only north county cemetary in disrepair. Memorial Park on Lucas and Hunt is not as bad as this, but while they cut the grass all the dad grass is still on the gravestones making it hard to find them. Also, in the military section, why didn’t they put flags on the headstones like other cemetaries?

  • Denise Reger

    For 8yrs.I have gone to visit my Mothers grave and my husband and I have to dig,cut and pull weeds just to find her head stone,last year couldn’t even locate it it had been covered with grass we have complained and the answer we would get well some times that happens when grass is cut WHAT…..Very depressing hope they fix this cause alot of us can’t move our loved ones wish I would love to if I could afford it.

    • jad

      You would actually pay to have a DEAD body moved!!!!!! Honey you have your priorities really screwed up. Give the money to a poor college student to pay his tuition or to some nice charity that caters to real live living people. What a waste…

  • Ernie

    First, let me state that all three cemetery’s, Oak Grove, established in 1922, Valhalla Cemetery, established in 1922 (abuts to Oak Grove) and Lake Charles Memorial Park Cemetery, established in 1911 (across the street from Oak Grove) are all in an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, and that brings it under St. Louis County Control. I was out at Oak Grove Saturday May 24, 2014 to hand out information and to collect signatures to petition the Missouri Attorney General, Dept. of Consumer protection office. I want them to investigate how the perpetual care fund is being utilized. If you look at the other two cemetery’s and see what kind of shape theirs are in you’ll realize that they don’t have dead trees, crumbing roads, tall grass and all of their property is properly maintained. So the question is, did Mrs. Stanza (who lives in Ladue) either misused the funds or is incompetent to run Oak Grove, why do the other Cemetery look so good. Maybe you should look her up on “case net” and see what I found on her. For over thirty years I’ve heard the same story, “were going to get it taken care of”, to as of seven years ago “it’s the economy”, next it will be George W. Bush. What needs to happen is stop thinking the news media will solve this, they won’t. You need to write a short note and complain about the conditions and send it to the
    Attorney General of Missouri
    Department of Consumer Protection
    Old Post Office Building
    815 Olive Street, suite 200
    St. Louis, MO 63101
    You should also call or write the
    St. Louis County Dept. of Health to complain about the mold in the Mausoleum.
    St. Louis County Dept of Public Works about building code violation, safety from falling dead limbs and dead trees, safety due to poor road condition.
    St. Louis County Dept. of Parks concerning the tall grass.
    Lastly, as I said before, if you think the news media is going to take care of this, you’re wrong. That will be only one complaint. You need to voice your concerns, your loved ones can’t

  • Larry Dodd

    Any time I go to the cemetery to visit my wife’s grave, I always take some gardening tools because I know what to expect when I get there. The last time I went there was a mound of fresh dirt just piled on her grave from a recent burial nearby. You may bust a shock on your car just driving through the cemetery due to the road conditions. At some future time, I’ll be buried there as we have a double headstone. I now wish we had planned something else somewhere else.

  • Ernie

    Larry, I’m sorry you must endure this pain and suffering, it shouldn’t be happening. This is why we must band together and fight to bring the standards of Oak Grove back up to the way it was, and it can be done. We can’t rely on someone else to do this for us. I have no problem standing up and taking my case to the St. Louis County Council members, mine is Pat Dolan (district # 5) and Hazel Erby (district # 1) who’s district controls Oak Grove. Her Ex Assistants name is Ms. Carr and can be reached at 314-615-5386. I’ve been told the department of public works will be going out today or Monday to do their inspections, the fire dept (which has not inspected the main office or maintenance shed in over five years and don’t know when the last one was done because they purge their files after five years) will be going out soon. This is only the beginning. May peace find you.

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