Legal Fight Over, Minnesota Man Creates One-Stop Cemetery Shop | Minnesota News


By BOB SHAW, St. Paul Pioneer Press

LAKE ELMO, Minn. (AP) — After a long legal battle with the city of Lake Elmo, Lee Rossow is opening his cemetery. Along the way, he went to the state Supreme Court and survived the deaths of his wife and parents.

As Rossow recently gave a tour of the cemetery, he reflected on the trip he took to open the place. The 14-year struggle, he said, gave him insight into what people need in times of grief.

“I think it will help people get through the worst days of their lives,” said Rossow, 75. His new nonprofit – Halcyon Cemetery – opened last month in Lake Elmo, a 10-acre facility as quirky in many ways as its owner.

He never thought of opening a cemetery until the deaths of his father in 2008 and his mother in 2011. He repeatedly went through the process of arranging long, expensive and unsatisfying funerals, reported the St Paul Pioneer Press.

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“I felt after all those deaths that there had to be a better way,” Rossow said. But he was busy, as founder and CEO of Centerline Charter Corp., which provides buses to area schools.

The death of his wife Geni in 2014 cemented his resolve to build a better way to grieve.

“Geni’s death was like a kick in my ass,” he said. “It was, ‘Let’s go! »

He had the idea of ​​transforming his parents’ house in 1985 into a funeral home. They had both died in this house and he wanted to turn the whole site into a cemetery that would preserve their memory.

His dream hit a roadblock at City Hall.

The cemetery has been authorized by the city’s zoning and it has been approved by the Planning Commission. But the city council rejected it, citing objections from neighbors.

Rossow sued the city, which prevailed in district court. He then appealed and won the case in the Court of Appeal. The city took the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2018 – and lost when the high court refused to hear it. Then Rossow got to work.

“I’ve been told I’m ‘U-nee-que’ in the industry,” Rossow said, pronouncing “unique” to make it sound funny.

In rebuilding the structure, he wanted to preserve as much of the original house as possible, which is why the original fireplace is the centerpiece of the building. Today, his parents watch from a portrait on the mantle, his mother perched on a piano.

Rossow created a “U-nee-que” entrance monument in the parking lot – his parents’ coffins, side by side.

With his own unfortunate funeral in mind, he devised a sort of one-stop shop for grieving families.

He wanted to organize all aspects of the funeral – the church service, the burial and the after-party – in one place.

He built a spacious meeting hall for the services. A 180-foot shelf lines the room, the future home of memories and photos of all of the cemetery’s loved ones.

Why does all the art have a nautical theme?

“It was what I had at home,” Rossow explained.

Outside, he’s already dug holes for 60 concrete vaults and buried them under about two feet of dirt. This will allow him to scrape the dirt, put a coffin or two in each vault, rebury it, and replace the sod, all in a day.

Behind the renovated house is a mausoleum, like a giant chest with drawers for the ashes of 64 loved ones. Each can be engraved with a photo, such as the picture of Rossow’s boat, next to the drawer for his wife’s remains.

Next to it is a round columbarium with 144 smaller drawers. A unique feature is in the center – an open place where he will place cremains in canvas pouches. It will be an affordable alternative to funerals, he said.

Then, a few steps away, he showed an even cheaper option. In a corner of the cemetery, he buried the ashes of 97 people who died penniless – remains acquired from Metro First Call, a Savage-based company that provides services to the local funeral industry.

For these remains, Rossow dug a hole two feet wide and six feet deep and placed the ashes there. It was covered with earth, then marked with a numbered concrete stone.

In his office, Rossow will keep records of people’s names under each stone, but there will be no records of names on the grave. The area is marked by a black stone with the inscription: “We proudly accept the remains of those who died without anything”.

Below the inscription is a number – 337 – which appears several times elsewhere in the cemetery.

Is it a Bible verse? A mystical sign?

No, explains Lee Rossow. It’s another “U-nee-que” touch – his name, backwards and forwards, that he affixed to his creation like an artist signs off a finished painting.

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