BOONE — The Mount Lawn Cemetery Association is awaiting approval from the NC Cemetery Commission to hold official ownership of Boone’s perpetual care cemetery, Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens.
The Mount Lawn Cemetery Association is in the process of establishing a trust to have its contract approved by the NC Cemetery Commission, which meets four times a year and is scheduled to meet in April. The association shares that the approval is a “formality” because the commission is already aware of the contract and plans of the Mount Lawn Cemetery Association.
The non-profit society began as a group of community members concerned about the condition of Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens in June 2021. The group was led by Jerry Harmon and met in a meeting space at Hampton Funeral Services, Inc. Since the first meeting, the group has created an official nonprofit corporation with a board of directors and is in the process of applying to receive a 501 c 13 tax ID number to use for deductions taxes for large donations.
“The maintenance of the cemetery has deteriorated. It doesn’t take you long to talk to someone in Boone and hear that they’re upset that the cemetery isn’t being maintained as it should be or the way people would like it to be,” said Mount Nancy Williams, President of the Lawn Cemetery Association. “There was a group of people that started meeting in June…we decided that the way we wanted to try to approach this was to develop a non-profit that could raise funds from the community. “
The board of trustees, consisting of Nancy G. Williams, Jerry Harmon, Billy Ralph Winkler, Barney Hampton, Mike Austin, Graydon Eggers, David Cottrell and Mike Wilson, officially signed the contract with current cemetery owner Klee Liles on March 10.
Going forward, the organization’s mission is to “purchase, repair, maintain and administer Mount Lawn Cemetery…to restore the cemetery to pristine condition by honoring those buried there and their families and friends”.
Williams shares that many community members she has spoken with are interested in donating, but are hesitant about where the money should go.
“My mom and dad now reside there and my husband and I probably will too. We have multiple plots for families and many community members are in the same situation,” Williams said. , we’re going to have to depend on each other… There are initial concerns about where the money is going, people feel like they’ve been burned by donating and see no benefit.”
The Mount Lawn Cemetery Association Board of Directors will not be compensated for their services. All money donated will be used for the upkeep of the property and to pay the salaries of current staff.
Current plans include repairing the cemetery pavement, which will be completed with donations from Wiley Roark of Maymead, Inc. and Jim Moretz of Moretz Paving. The organization is also working with Branch & Vine Landscape Design for long-term landscaping, primarily focusing on the front door to begin with.
Barney Hampton, owner and president of Hampton Funeral Service, Inc. and former owner of Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens, said he thinks the whole community should take an interest in what’s happening at the cemetery.
“It’s very important for the community and the whole county, as well as people in other countries, to know that this is happening,” Hampton said. “Walk up (the cemetery road) and see the condition of the street, the holes in the sidewalk, the buildings and the mausoleum need painting.”
The 13.26-acre Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens was established in the 1950s after William Sturdivant of North Wilkesboro purchased the land. Sturdivant was the owner of Reins-Sturdivant Funeral Home, which had locations in North Wilkesboro, Boone, West Jefferson, Newland and Independence, Va. Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens became Boone’s first perpetual care cemetery.
The cemetery has had 11 owners between its conception in the 1950s and today. Current owner Liles bought the cemetery in bankruptcy in February 2005 after former owner Derek Roberts pleaded guilty to two counts of impersonation and was charged with embezzlement.
In 2018, Liles offered the property to the city after receiving no credible offers in its attempt to sell the cemetery. After the city declined his offer, Liles looked for other options. If he had given up his role with the cemetery, it would have come under the authority of the county, although he had no responsibility for managing it.
“Klee has been there for 17 years trying to make it, and he just can’t afford it. He could have gone and moved to California and just left it, but he didn’t,” said Williams “He did a great job with what he had to work with.”
The Mount Lawn Cemetery Association is currently considering donations to restore and maintain Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens. To learn more about the Mount Lawn Cemetery Association, call their office at (828) 264-3977.