Spotlight: A final resting place among family and friends

Author: Dar Cutrona, ND Works


In the spring of 2000, Mary Ellen Koepfle, director of finance and operations for Notre Dames College of Arts and Letters, accompanied her father, Eddie Rusinek, to Cedar Grove Cemetery to purchase a gravesite.p. Koepfles mom, Mary, had had Alzheimers disease for several years. After talking with Cedar Grove sexton Leon Glon to see what was available, they chose a sunny spot in a newer section of the cemetery, near the nine-hole golf course. Mary was a retired staff member of the Nieuwland Science Library; Eddie had worked on the vending machine crew. The setting was like home to them.p. Last year, after 55 years of marriage, the Rusineks died within a week of each other.p. Today, Koepfle visits her parentsgravesite often.Its nice to hear the students playing sports so close to the cemetery while Im there,she said.It feels like my parents are still a part of Notre Dame, being buried here, right in the midst of all the life that continues on in the students.Koepfle and her husband have already secured the spot next to her parents.p. Cedar Grove Cemetery dates back to 1843, one year after Notre Dames founding.Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., Notre Dames founder, established the cemetery in response to the areas need for Catholic burials, and to generate income for the fledging school. Brother Francis Xavier Patios, one of the original founding brothers who arrived with Sorin in 1842, served as mortician, coffin maker and sexton of the Universitys two cemeteries. According to diocesan records, Brother Patios gave the cemetery its name,when, some years later, his favorite evergreens gave it a sightly appearance, he called it Cedar Grove Cemetery … In the early days, Cedar Grove was the only graveyard for Catholics within many miles of South Bend …p. The University offered the services until 1911, then sold the business to L.W. McGann of Macomb, Ill. A South Bend Times article dated Nov. 4, 1911, citedthe increasing demand by residents of South Bend for the services of the university establishment, which it was often difficult to furnish under trying circumstances, was the reason for the transfer.McGann Funeral Home still operates in South Bend.p. The costs involved with burials have increased steadily over the years. In 1877 expenses for a coffin, use of hearse, robe and digging a grave totaled $40. The price for the plot alone was $200 in 1976, according to a University correspondence. The price rose to $1,000 in 2001; today its $1,500.p. Glon and his assistant Donnie Keen care for the cemetery, performing maintenance and administrative duties.Keen recalled that he didnt even know Notre Dame had a cemetery before applying for the job three years ago. But now he wouldnt trade it for any other. His previous job as a bar owner is a sharp contrast to his current responsibilities.I love my job,he said.Theres no stress, and its nice and quiet here.Glon, who has worked at Cedar Grove for 16 years,finds satisfaction in helping families.p. Glon was appointed sexton in 2002, having served as assistant sexton the previous 12 years. He handles the administrative work of the cemetery – assisting families, selling plots, filling out paperwork and keeping records, dealing with area funeral homes and attending staff meetings. Glon and Keen keep a corner office in a building they share with three lawn tractors, weed trimmers and other lawn equipment.p. Cedar Grove is a private cemetery, open only to Notre Dame faculty and staff. There currently are about 3,000 plots available, with an expectation of the cemetery being full in 65 years.We usually see 50-60 burials a year,he explained.This year has been a little slower. Were behind around 10 burials than we were at this time last year,he said.p. Fifty-eight burials were recorded last year, the most to date in a one-year period. Glon noted that approximately 40 percent of the interments are for cremated remains. He reported refusing constant requests from alumni to purchase lots. Because of the great interest, the University is considering erecting a mausoleum and columbarium.This would mean a lot to people,said Glon.p. Mrs. John Hendricks, who died in May 1838 at age 34, was the first person buried at Cedar Grove. Letters on her worn, mostly white headstone are illegible now, having stood through so many years of harsh weather. Her remains were moved from a site on Angela Boulevard, near St. Joseph High School. Similarly, the Potowatomi Indian mound at Cedar Grove marks the grave of Native Americans transferred from a placeabout one mile weston Sept. 28, 1928. The cemetery presents a historical glimpse of the regions population with its Irish, Hungarian, Polish and French names clustered together.p. Keeping the cemetery neat is year-round work. Keen mows the cemeterys 22 acres with all the unique challenges of 10,000 headstones weekly. A thorough mowing takes three workdays. During the growing season hell cut the grass twice a week. He also trims the bushes, fertilizes the grass and sprays for weeds twice a year. The annual spring cleanup includes throwing out weathered decorations and dead plants.p. We work hard to keep the place looking good,he said. He gets 20 hours of student help a week in the summer.p. Keen digs the graves, too.p. We get a 24-hour notice before a service,he said. Since the cemetery is located on sandy soil, it takes only 1 1/2 to 2 hours to dig a grave.p. Winter is a different story, though,he said.Itll take up to four hours to dig a grave in the winter, even with a jackhammer.Glon agreed, adding,Winter is the hardest part of the job. Working with the frozen ground and clearing away a heavy snow is hard work. Those days you go home really tired.p. Keen also spreads generous amounts of salt on the cemetery roads in the winter, keeping them clear for visitors, many of whom come regularly.p. Big, fat cigars are regularly placed at Moose Krauses grave (later carried off by curious squirrels), and a steady stream of visitors visits the grave of Catherine LaCugna, a theology professor at the University who died in 1997.p. The cemeterys gates are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.p. Weve had little vandalism or theft since Ive been here,Glon said.Security keeps a good eye on the place.Every now and then a random vagrant comes through, leaving only a colorful story behind.A woman wearing a long blond wig drove in, parked her car near the chapel, got out, and began dancing and cursing,he said.She asked to use the bathroom, where she continued to swear and shout, then left, heading toward campus. We called security with a report of her odd behavior, but she didnt cause any problems.p. A new responsibility for Keen is the upkeep of All Souls Chapel, which dates to the early 1850s and is designated as theoldest continuously used chapel at Notre Dame.Designed by Brother Patios, it was built with bricks made from the marl of St. Joseph Lake, the same used in many of the Universitys oldest structures. A fire in 1926 destroyed the chapels roof, most of the interior and many of the cemeterys records.p. The University has made attempts to piece the records of the cemetery back together – once in the 1970s, and again this year. A researcher is combing death records, church records and other documents in an effort to put names on the cemeterys 1,000 unknown headstones. Four thousand pieces of new information have been recovered.p. An extensive renovation of the chapel this year has transformed it into one of the Universitys treasures. It now offers an intimate setting for memorial and graveside services. Decorated with warm woodwork and back-lit stained glass, the chapel has seating for 40 people. Taking nine months to complete, the renovation included replacing the roof, adding heating and air conditioning, a new steeple (similar to the original), new seating (padded individual chairs), widening the front steps, and adding a brick sidewalk. The project was a gift of Madeleine Kelly Demetrio, whose husband and son, both alumni, are buried in Cedar Grove. The chapel was formally rededicated in August.

Glons work has affected his thoughts concerning his own mortality.

I dont fear death,he said.And Ive made plans to be buried here at Cedar Grove. Ive also made sure my wife knows my wishes.

Despite his fondness for Cedar Grove and Notre Dame, Keen doesnt plan to be buried here.No,he said,I live in the country, so I want to be buried in the country.

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