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Woman argues with Edna cemetery board (video)

By BY DIANNA WRAY - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Feb. 14, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 14, 2013 at 8:15 p.m.

Mindy Yendrey's family buried their father in Memory Gardens of Edna cemetery in 1999. Yendrey visits the grave often, changing the flowers for holidays and lighting a special candle in a plastic holder that stays lit for days. Recently, the management of the cemetery has removed the candle holder from the grave and other items, such as flowers they see as out-of-season.

HISTORY

• Memory Gardens of Edna was first chartered in 1890 as the Prairie White Cemetery.

• It was given a new charter as Memory Gardens of Edna in 1954.

SOURCE: cemeteries-of-tx.com

EDNA - Mindy Yendrey came out to her father's grave to change the flowers last December and was surprised to find nothing there.

The things she and her family had put on his grave had been removed, and the eternal flame candle that has marked his grave since the year he died was in the cemetery office.

"To have him more or less stripped - it was like he had clothes on and someone came and left him naked," she said.

Since then, Yendrey has been in conflict with the board that governs Memory Gardens of Edna.

Board members said they are just enforcing rules that should have been put into practice years ago, while Yendrey and those who have been alarmed to find their decorations removed disagree.

"I've had that candle out there all these years. I don't see why they can't grandfather it in the way they did cemetery benches," Yendrey said.

This is an emotional issue for Yendrey.

Since her father, Willie E. Nastoupil Sr., died on Jan. 6, 1999, Yendrey tended his grave as a way to keep his memory alive, to ensure that he was not forgotten.

Her father was due to leave the hospital that day. Yendrey and the rest of the family had been busy cleaning up the front yard when someone called from the hospital, telling her they needed to get down there right away.

Yendrey's father was dead before they arrived.

It was a shock to the family, but Yendrey, the youngest of eight children raised in Edna, had always been particularly close to her father, and she took his death hard.

The family chose to bury him in Memory Gardens of Edna, a quiet place with rows of tombstones dotting the smooth green carpet of grass. They chose to bury him in the corner of the lot, near the front.

In the days after the funeral, Yendrey found herself at the grave all the time, sometimes two or three times a day. She brought him the things she knew he liked, chocolate-covered cherries on Christmas, red roses on Valentine's Day, flowers to mark his birthday, her parents' anniversary and the day he died.

"My family was worried about me, but it was just my way of coping. They had their way, and I had mine," she said, remembering.

She received permission from the Memory Gardens of Edna Cemetery board to put an eternal candle on his grave, she said. It is a red plastic candle holder lined with gold plastic with Nastoupil written in fancy script on the side.

Her visits lessened as time passed, but she could see the candle whenever she drove by the cemetery, a small gold light in a red plastic container, burning in the darkness.

When her father was first buried, the cemetery had rules about what could be placed on graves, but the rules were not strenuously enforced, said board president Steve Minch. People would put out any number of trinkets, statues and knickknacks to decorate their loved ones' graves. They were even bringing in cement to put in small curbs around the family plots they had purchased.

"The curbs looked nice, but they were a maintenance nightmare, so we had to stop that," Minch said. "What we're experiencing right now is just a few people coming out and complaining, and we try to do right for the whole cemetery and to do our best to be fair with these rules."

All of this started changing the look of the cemetery, Minch said, giving it a cluttered look and creating problems for the maintenance staff when they went through with mowers and lawn trimmers to clean up the place.

In 2010, the board started taking a different approach. Over the past couple of years, they have begun enforcing the rules.

Some of the people who have family and friends buried there have come out to the graves to find their flowers removed, the small statues, vases, candle holders like Yendrey's and seasonal decorations gone.

Karen Venglar has tended to family graves in this cemetery since 1981. She came out after Christmas and found the metal Christmas trees she had made had been taken off her family graves.

Venglar has a number of family members buried in the cemetery. Finding the graves stripped of the decorations she'd made was a shock.

"If it gets to be too much, tell me, but I checked with the office, and they said it was fine," Venglar said.

Last December, Yendrey went to her father's grave and found that the candle holder had been picked up. She went to the office and was told the flowers were all in the trash, but her light had been saved.

Another controversy has arisen over keeping the benches people had placed in the cemetery over the years. Yendrey attended the board meeting in December, asking whether her candle could be grandfathered into the rules, the way the benches were.

She said she was told no because the light might attract vandals or start a fire or mess up the cemetery groundskeeping equipment.

They told her she could bring the candle out to light it on special occasions, and she had planned to leave it there through the holidays and the anniversary of her father's death, but she was told to come pick up the candle after Christmas.

She asked to please leave it, but was told the candle had to be picked up because the holder was glass. She pointed out it was plastic, she said, and the board told her she had to take it because it made the cemetery look cluttered.

Minch said he understood where Yendrey and those like her are coming from, how personal it can feel to have something taken off a grave, but he said they are trying to enforce the rules of the cemetery.

"Things change, and there were things that we allowed, like her candle, and she may have asked permission from the then-board and they allowed it, but things change; it got to the point where we had to remove it, because people would come out and say that if she could have it, why couldn't they," Minch said.

Aside from considering the look of the cemetery, he said the board is making a point of enforcing the rules because of practical considerations.

The cemetery, like many other rural cemetery organizations, is a nonprofit organization working on a shoestring budget, he said. The decorations hidden in the grass could break equipment they would have to replace or hurt one of the groundskeepers or someone else if it got run over.

"It is, I'm sure, an emotional response from the family, but the rules are there," Minch said. "Nothing stays static, everything changes, and as we went along, we saw that this needed to change."

After retrieving the candle from the groundskeeper's office, Yendrey put it back out for Valentine's Day, which is the anniversary of her parents' marriage. When she came back last week, the candle was gone.

"These are his. I came out here, and there was nothing there. When I came out here and saw nothing, it made me feel like it said this was a man that no one thinks of," Yendrey said. "He's not forgotten."

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