Long-time resident Deborah Ingle recently visited her mother’s gravesite at Mustang Cemetery and found several sentimental items were missing.
After making several distraught phone calls to family members, Ingle noticed a secluded area on the southwest corner of the property. More than a dozen black trash bags were stacked behind a small fence panel.
Flowers, headstone vases, small statues, name plates and more filled the bags.
“I thought, ‘Dear God,’ I don’t understand if you’ve got a dumpster here, why are you putting all this stuff in trash bags,” Ingle said.
Cemetery President Ken Carpenter said the trash bags have been on the property for about 10 years. After about a month or two, the cemetery’s lawn service throws the bags in the dumpster.
“We want to respect (people) and give them a chance to get (their items),” Carpenter said.
The wind scatters many mementos around, like flowers, and the lawn service often doesn’t know which ones belong to certain headstones, he added.
Name plates are also picked up after headstones are placed.
“Here’s our problem, half the people buried, their family never comes back,” Carpenter said. “That’s a sad thing to say but it’s reality. We don’t know who’s coming back to get stuff.”
After taking more than 10 bags home, Ingle located her missing items.
It took about six months for Ingle and her family to receive a headstone for her mother, Mary Lee Yarber, due to industry delays caused by the pandemic. Yarber, who died of COVID-19, was a cafeteria manager for 17 years at Mustang Public Schools.
After waiting more than a month, Ingle and her family members also leveled her mother’s gravesite themselves. As of Aug. 17, about 10 other gravesites had not been leveled.
“There are certain things they’re doing that are just wrong,” Ingle said.
Carpenter said there is not a specific time a grave must be leveled by.
“We just kind of work with the weather on that,” he said.
Ingle has about 10 immediate family members buried at the cemetery. This is the first time they’ve had items removed, she said.
The cemetery’s board meets at 7 p.m. the first Thursday in May each year at the Mustang Cemetery pavilion. Members of the public are invited to attend.
The six volunteer members are elected on three-year terms.
Notice of the meetings are typically published in both the Mustang News and Mustang Times, Carpenter said.
The cemetery makes money by lot sales. All monies obtained by selling lots goes toward the maintenance of the cemetery.
A mowing service is contracted to mow weekly during growing season, which is typically 33-35 weeks a year. Webster’s Lawn Service has been the contract for about five years.
The cemetery spends about $25,000 annually for mowing.
People who purchase a gravesite at Mustang Cemetery and Red Hill Cemetery must abide by bylaws, which they are given upon the purchase, Carpenter said. The rules and regulations were adopted May 13, 1932, and have since been amended six times, with the latest being in September 2016.
On average, the cemetery sells about 300 lots a year.
The cemeteries are independent from the City of Mustang, as well.
People can place any items on their headstones all year-long, Carpenter said. However, when mowing season begins, patrons have four days before Memorial Day and 10 days after the holiday to remove items on the lawn that could get in the way of mowing, according to the bylaws.
This does not apply to mounted flowers and other decorations affixed directly to the top of the marker that would not get in the way of mowing.
Carpenter said he has received several calls in the last two months regarding people who noted items were missing from their family member’s headstones.
“We want you to have anything you want on your headstone, but we cannot have it there for more than two weeks on the gravesite,” he said.
The cemetery had signs posted about headstone items, however, wind and vandalism has prevented them from being noticed, Carpenter added. The president said the cemetery is having four new signs made that will hopefully be installed as soon as possible.
“We do the best we can,” Carpenter said.
While Ingle understands the cemetery must be mowed, she would like a more specific notification process in place for patrons. As items must be gone by a certain week, Ingle said cemetery officials should identify what day of the week.
Carpenter said he wished there was more specificity too, however, mowing is dependent on the weather.
Ingle’s granddaughter Megan Yarber also said the lack of notification is a problem.
“All it takes is one person being on the edge and they come up to grieve the loss of their loved one and their items are gone and that’s it,” Yarber said. “If I can keep one other family from feeling this way, this will have been worth it.”