The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

August 31, 2013

A Mounting Hope

Cemetery board looks to improve property

The Commercial-News

---- — About half a mile north of Exit 8 on I-74 sits Mount Hope Cemetery, the final resting place for some 5,000 people.

For the stewards of the cemetery, however, it’s more than a burial ground. They see it as a place full of history and beauty, as well as the gateway to Covington, Ind.

“A lot of people tell me ‘What a beautiful, clean city you have,’ and the cemetery is part of that image,” said Harry Hoagland, who holds one of six seats on the Board of Trustees for the Mount Hope Cemetery Association.

Even though the cemetery looks attractive enough from the road, it’s in dire need of upgrades according to the board. Out of 200 trees on the property, about 20 percent need to be trimmed or replaced. Roadways need resurfaced and the brick entranceway posts need to be sandblasted and tuck-pointed. There are other signs of deterioration, like crumbling concrete and gravesites that have fallen into disrepair because some families no longer have descendants in the area.

“This is my home and I want my kids and grandkids to be able to say ‘Isn’t this a beautiful place where grandpa is buried,’” Hoagland said. “I don’t want this to get away from us and I know it can happen quickly.”

The little known Mount Hope Cemetery Association was founded in 1939 when it took over two parcels of land along Stringtown Road from what was then called the Oddfellows Lodge Cemetery. The property covers a little more than 40 acres, about half of it on the east side of the road and half of it on the west side. The board makes the decisions about the cemetery and Rich Crouse, who has been the caretaker of the cemetery for the past 23 years, does all the legwork, including the mowing. And it’s a job he’s passionate about.

“I just love the cemetery,” Crouse said. “A lot of people don’t realize this is not a township cemetery, it’s a private cemetery.”

The private status means that Mount Hope doesn’t receive any tax funds to cover its expenses; instead the board raises money by selling plots. A portion of that money is invested and the rest is used to pay for maintenance. Currently there are not enough funds to maintain the grounds. Crouse has even paid out of his own pocket to cover some things that were needed.

“Right now we’re getting half the interest that we used to get from our investments,” said Bruce Gee, another board member. “At the same time, our mowing costs have increased.”

The growing popularity of cremations and the fact that people generally wait longer to purchase their plots have also dealt a blow to the cemetery’s finances. Therefore, the board has decided to ask the community for help.

“We’re trying to raise money,” said Scott Wallace, also a board member.

“Hopefully we’ll get enough to where we can maintain things.” Hoagland added, “This board is more pro-active than ever before. We’re reaching out not only to people whose family is buried here, but to the whole community.”

The goal of the board, which also includes Doug Shelby, Greg Clingan and Richard Rennick Jr., is to raise $50,000 to take care of the neglected areas.

Aside from addressing the maintenance, Hoagland’s vision for Mount Hope Cemetery includes a new meditation garden, which would create a private space for reflection and a place for families to gather at burial time. Ultimately, the board would like the cemetery to look and feel more like a memorial garden and Hoagland believes the Covington community will step up to help fulfill that vision.

“This community is always very supportive when something is needed to enhance the general appearance of the town. We’ve seen it with the trees that were replanted after they redid the highway and we’ve seen it with the flags along the streets.”

FUNDRAISER The Mount Hope Cemetery Association is raising money for the upkeep of the burial grounds on Stringtown Road in Covington. Donations can be mailed to: Mount Hope Cemetery Association, Inc., c/o Richard L. Rennick, Jr., P.O. Box 129, Covington, IN 47932