Oak Hill Cemetery in South St. Paul seeks help with road redo

Oak Hill Cemetery in South St. Paul is in need of major road repairs — and major funding, according to secretary-treasurer Char Poore. She and her late husband used to be caretakers of the 117-year-old cemetery. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Oak Hill Cemetery in South St. Paul is in need of major road repairs — and major funding, according to secretary-treasurer Char Poore, who walked along the crumbling roads on a recent Friday. She and her late husband used to be caretakers of the 117-year-old cemetery.

Next to the white and black pylons at the entrance of Oak Hill Cemetery in South St. Paul on a recent Friday, caretaker Steve Rivera crouched by a hole surrounded by torn-up asphalt, fixing a blown water main.

But replacing the pipe that popped recently, shooting a spurt of water into the air, is not even the most major maintenance issue staff at the 117-year-old cemetery hopes to address.

The cemetery board is asking for some extra financial help to replace the cracking, extensively patched roads honeycombed with potholes and crumbling asphalt — a reconstruction project that could cost more than $200,000, according to recent estimates.

Loved ones of those buried at the cemetery, which has around 8,500 graves and about 1,500 pre-sold plots, have been complaining about the condition of the roads, according to Char Poore, who ran the cemetery for 33 years with her husband, Virgil.

The couple took over caretaking of the cemetery from Virgil’s mother and stepfather, who ran it for 41 years. When Virgil died nearly four years ago, Poore gave it up. She’s now the secretary-treasurer of the cemetery, located at 243 16th Ave. N.

A bumpy road

Poore said the roads have only been mended in spots since she and her husband started tending to the cemetery nearly 40 years ago.

Walking on the roads isn’t so bad, but driving on them is a bumpy affair. It’s especially noticeable for visitors during bigger gatherings, such as the recent Memorial Day parade that ended there.

Poore said the city used to help patch the roads that wind through the 13.8-acre cemetery, the largest of the two in South St. Paul.

“But, of course, it cracks up again,” she said in a recent interview, pointing out a hole that revealed multiple layers of asphalt and gravel.

Rivera said estimates to redo the road ranged from $145,000 to $207,000, but those amounts were from about two years ago. He said it most likely would cost more now to put down a new base of gravel and a few inches of tar, as well as possibly widen the road in some areas and add curbs.

Money problems

Poore said such large-scale maintenance can be difficult to keep up on, in addition to the usual day-to-day chores.

“It’s hard maintaining everything the way it is,” she said.

Poore said the amount of funerals have gone down, and the popularity of cremations has caused profits to dip.

Last year, the cemetery had 25 full internments, one burial of an infant and 21 cremations. The sale of lots has also gone down; there were only 10 sold last year.

Burials cost $1,050 for a full interment. Cremations cost $625.

“You can’t make a profit on that,” Poore said, adding: “We try to keep our prices down, because we are a small community cemetery.”

Portions of the money from burials go to a perpetual care fund and to the caretaker’s salary and other pay.

At the current rate, Poore said it would take “quite a while” to save money to replace the roads.

“It’s hard to keep our funds going,” she said. “We try to do the best we can.”

Asking for help

She said the board is starting to look at fundraising options, one of which is asking the community for help.

Despite the deteriorating roads, Poore finds the cemetery filled with towering oak trees peaceful and beautiful. On a recent Friday, white puffy seeds floated down from a large cottonwood, dusting the gentle, grassy hills, where graves dating back to the 1800s rest.

Even though it can be a hard business to be in, Poore said she takes pride in the cemetery. Her husband is buried there, as are many of her family members.

“I wouldn’t want them any other place,” Poore said.

Donations to Oak Hill Cemetery, a non-profit, can be sent to Key Community Bank at 515 Marie Ave. in South St. Paul. Contributions will be set aside for reconstructing the roads. The bank can be contacted at 651-379-3576.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.


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