A Meadville cemetery has received new life in the form of an endowment established by an anonymous donor.
The endowment has been established with the Crawford Heritage Community Foundation to provide support for Meadville’s historic Greendale Cemetery. Named the Greendale Cemetery Fund, the permanent endowment’s purpose is to provide support for the maintenance and upkeep of the more than 150-year-old cemetery. The fund was established with an initial $15,000 contribution from a former member of its Board of Managers.
“I hope other people will follow my lead and give to the endowment to support this historic landmark,” the donor said in a foundation press release. “When you walk the cemetery grounds, it is easy to forget the time and expense that goes into caring for more than 200 acres that includes hundreds of monuments, trees and rhododendrons. It is imperative that those of us who appreciate Greendale make an effort to preserve it.”
The cemetery — which is community based, publicly owned and the final resting place for more than 21,000 people — can’t be run alone on fees, lot sales, foundations and interment, said James Vogan, superintendent of Greendale Cemetery.
Prior to endowment, Greendale’s financial situation led to only about eight to 10 more years left for upkeep.
Major outdoor maintenance like mowing, trimming and leaf removal is done from April to November, while snow plowing must be done on roads during the winter.
Mowers, trimmers and chain saws need upkeep, as well as a dump truck. Greendale’s current mowers are from 2002, and the dump truck is about 12 years old, too. There is a crew of three during the year.
Money would be used toward tree removal when necessary, equipment and upkeep of internal roads within the cemetery.
It’s difficult to remove trees after damage from storms. A damaged tree just can’t be dropped, but it must be removed piece-by-piece with sections lowered to the ground to avoid damage to all the surrounding grave monuments, Vogan said.
“The last tree we took out cost $2,200 to remove,” he noted.
Meanwhile, to totally repave the road system within the 200-acre cemetery could cost between $80,000 to $100,000, according to Vogan.
The nonprofit cemetery, resources of which are free and open to the public, runs mainly on donations, relying on the community for support, according to Vogan, who said he and his wife, Mary, have tended to Greendale for the past 35 years. Vogan has been superintendent of Greendale since 1981.
“We’re hoping this spearheads others to get involved and get them to join in,” he said.
The key advantage of a permanent endowment is that it won’t be spent immediately, said Christian Maher, executive director of the Crawford Heritage Community Foundation. Instead, the money is invested and a percentage is paid out each year. As the endowment grows, more money is available to support the organization’s mission.
“The nice part is people can piggyback onto it,” James Patterson, president of Greendale Cemetery, said if people want to make a contribution toward the cemetery. “We’re grateful for the gift and it could be the start of something that will hopefully grow and be meaningful for the cemetery.”
The foundation helps people make the most of their philanthropy by giving to endowed funds. It manages more than 100 funds, which benefit more than 100 different organizations, scholarships and charitable purposes. More than $4.5 million has been awarded since the organization was established in 1998.
Both Patterson and Vogan say operations are not just a case of someone buying a cemetery lot and that is the end.
Vogan has a small written reminder that he shows folks. It reads, “It’s the only business that services what it sells forever. There’s no five-year warranty and then that’s it. Maintenance is an ongoing thing that never has an end.”
You can help
If people want to donate, Greendale Cemetery has 501(c)3 designation from IRS, making gifts tax deductible. Gifts may be sent to Greendale Cemetery Association, 700 Randolph St., Meadville, Pa. 16335; or through Crawford Heritage Community Foundation, 911 Diamond Park Square, Meadville, Pa. 16335.
History of the cemetery
As early as 1788, in the year in which he founded the town that now bears his name, David Mead recognized the need to establish a local burial ground in Meadville. In 1811 he deeded land at the present day corner of Randolph Street and Park Avenue to the Presbyterian Church.
In 1813 it was enclosed by a fence. At that time, it cost 50 cents to bury an adult, 25 cents for a child and $1 for a “stranger.”
By the middle of the 19th century, the limited size of the cemetery and its location in the middle of the growing downtown district suggested the relocation of the burial ground. Several leading citizens of the community agreed to take on the task and arranged for the purchase of land parcels at the end of Randolph Street, some in Meadville itself and many in what is now West Mead Township. They were successful, and the new grounds were incorporated as the Meadville Cemetery.
On March 11, 1852, the remains in the Randolph Street Cemetery were disinterred and moved to the present day location. Though they were placed in one large grave, the individual grave markers were also moved and may be found in a central section of Greendale. The original charter from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives still exists. You can view the document’s outside, or you can view the inside on Greendale’s website.
In 1853, the area gained a new name as Greendale Cemetery and designation as both a park and a burial ground. Though a municipal project, it had been created by private citizens for the community. It would, in accordance with Pennsylvania law and its charter, be administered by an independent board of corporators and managers elected by that board and operate on a nonprofit basis as a service to area residents.
The archway was built in 1865 at a cost of only $315. In 1874, the receiving vault was erected for $2,100. In 1875, the house originally built in 1856 for the sexton was moved within the gated area and designated the superintendent’s home.
In 1875 Herman Munz was hired to plant the grounds, and today more than 1,500 rhododendrons decorate the grounds.
The preceding information came from greendalecemetery.org.