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Private Cemetery in Keokuk Focus of Public Meeting

The city of Keokuk said it’s received a lot of complaints over the years about the condition of a private cemetery along Main Street. A grass roots effort is underway to try to convince the owner of the cemetery to fix it up, starting with a meeting June 12 at 6:00 at the Keokuk Labor Temple.

Most of the complaints about Sunset Memorial Park are directed to Code Enforcement Officer Kathie Mahoney. Her office handles nuisance complaints for the city.

Mahoney said some of the issues at the cemetery would be considered a nuisance (tall grass, branches or debris piled up, signs and trash on the ground) under city code. But she said others are out of the control of the city (headstones sinking into the ground or vaults becoming exposed due to erosion).

“That is part of perpetual care,” said Mahoney. “That would be between the people who have loved ones buried there and the people who own the cemetery.”

Mahoney said her office sent a letter, several months ago, to Memorial Park Services (Iowa City) about what city code considers to be a nuisance. She said the company did apply some gravel to the road and hired a company to mow the grass. But she said other items were ignored and the local company hired to mow the grass quit after Memorial Day because it was not being paid.

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Mahoney said she could file legal proceedings against Memorial Park Services regarding the grass, branches and trash. She said if the company did not do the work, the city would and attach a lien to the property to cover the cost.

But instead, Mahoney, outside of her capacity with the city, is helping to organize a citizen committee consisting of people with a connection to Sunset Memorial Park. She is hoping for a big turnout for the first organizational meeting.

Mahoney said if a committee is formed, it could reach out to the owner to try to negotiate real improvements to the cemetery.

“20 people with a loved one buried there have a far bigger voice than me just asking to cut the grass,” said Mahoney.

Tri States Public Radio reached out to Memorial Park Services for an interview for this story. We did not hear back from the company, which also owns cemeteries in Fort Madison and Burlington.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.