The Aulenbach Cemetery is in dire need of volunteers


If Aulenbach Cemetery does not find volunteers to help with maintenance, the cemetery corporation could be forced to dissolve, said Edward Gensemer, chairman of Aulenbach’s board of directors.

“It’s just a few board members who donate time to go out there when they can,” he said, noting that most work full-time or are retired seniors. with physical limitations.

Partly in Reading and partly in Mount Penn, the non-profit, non-sectarian 21.5-acre cemetery is bounded by Perkiomen Avenue to the south, Howard Boulevard to the north, Cemetery Lane and South 19th Street to the west, and private and public properties – including the Central Berks Police Department Headquarters – along North 22nd Street to the east.

Gensemer said he contacted Mount Penn council chairman Troy Goodman and the city for help.

Goodman was unavailable for comment.

Ed Gensemer, president of Aulenbach’s Cemetery Co., is appealing to Reading and Mount Penn to help maintain the cemetery, which straddles the two municipalities. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

If the cemetery corporation folds, the cemetery could become the responsibility of the city and the borough, said Frank Denbowski, chief of staff for Mayor Eddie Moran and acting city manager, at a recent city council committee. of the whole meeting.

Unlike most cemeteries in the city, Aulenbach Cemetery is not affiliated with a church or other religious institution. Like Charles Evans Cemetery, another non-sectarian cemetery within the city limits, Aulenbach has been licensed by the state as a nonprofit corporation. However, unlike the first, it is not well endowed.

Aulenbach’s revenue comes primarily from annual city and borough contributions, Gensemer said.

Mount Penn has donated $10,000 each for the past two years, he said, noting that the cemetery received $5,000 from the city last year but has received nothing this year so far.

City Clerk Linda Kelleher said $15,000 has been budgeted for the cemetery by the city for the current fiscal year.

Municipal contributions are supplemented by a small income from a $200,000 trust fund established for perpetual care.

The trust fund is structured so that principal cannot be drawn, Gensemer said.

The cemetery charges a small fee for the burial services the organization provides as part of its mission. However, the amount does not cover the cost of opening and closing a grave, and burials are subsidized by municipal contributions.

The nonprofit has a small budget for a part-time employee or two at $10 an hour, a few hours a week, Gensemer said, but the board was unable to find enough help. The cemetery has two employees who trim a total of nine hours a week, he said, but needs at least 20 hours a week just to stay on top of lawn maintenance in the spring and in summer.

“We reached out on Facebook and through word of mouth,” he said. “We tried everything to get mowers and trimmers. Nobody wants to apply. »

Without the necessary help, Gensemer said, grass and weeds overran the cemetery, prompting complaints from area residents.

Denbowski said a crew from the Lower Alsace Township recently mowed a section along North 22nd Street and Perkiomen Avenue, although the cemetery is not part of the township boundary.

Grounds maintenance requires more than just mowing grass in open areas, Gensemer said.

“We need to redo the walls and we need to redo the roads,” Gensemer said. “We need trees felled before they fall and do more damage to stones than they already do.”

Growth should be carefully trimmed around headstones to avoid damaging the stones, he noted. There are also trees that need to be pruned and dead and dying trees that need to be removed to prevent them from falling, he said.

Additionally, cement retaining walls along Perkiomen Avenue and Cemetery Lane are crumbling and at risk of collapse, Denbowski said.

Brush with history

Aulenbach Cemetery, straddling the town of Reading and the borough of Mount Penn, has become overgrown and needs repairs to its retaining walls.  (BILL UHRICH??
The retaining wall at Aulenbach Cemetery, which is in both Reading and Mount Penn, needs to be repaired. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

Seeing the cemetery’s overgrown graves and crumbling retaining walls saddens Sandra Stief of Reading.

For decades, she and her husband, Donald, volunteered to mow, trim and otherwise maintain the cemetery. Finding help has always been difficult, she says, but for the Stiefs, the work was a labor of love.

More than 20 of his ancestors and relatives are buried there.

And that’s not all, says Sandra Stief, whose latest book on Aulenbach will soon be published by Masthof Press, Caernarvon Township. The cemetery, founded in 1853 by Charles Aulenbach, is the final resting place of over 3,000 Earls of Berks. More than 1,200 are military veterans, including more than 500 Civil War veterans, she said.

There is also Johannes Cunius, a watch carpenter and cabinetmaker, who fought in the War of Independence and the father of the founder, Andreas Aulenbach, a veteran of the War of 1812.

Not all of the notables buried there are veterans, Stief said.

There is Lilith M. Wilson, who in 1930 became the first woman from Berks to be elected as a state representative and the first Socialist Party woman elected to a legislative body in the United States.

There is also William W. Connelly, a professional baseball player, whose professional career spanned from 1945 to 1957. Connelly, who died in 1980, batted with his left hand and pitched with his right.

Also buried there are Ludwig Wollenweber, a German-American journalist and founder of a German-language newspaper from Philadelphia; Hans Wilkins, a self-taught naturalist born in Reading; a vaudevillian; a country-western star; a famous accordionist; and countless local notables, not to mention the many ordinary men, women and children who lived and died in Reading, Stief said.

Aulenbach Cemetery
Aulenbach Cemetery, visible in this map of Berks County Tax Plots, is partly within the city and partly within the Borough of Mount Penn. The non-profit cemetery is largely made up of volunteers and is in danger of disappearing.

The cemetery itself is historically significant as an example of the garden cemetery movement, she said.

From around 1810, urban communities became concerned about overcrowding and health risks.

With little scientific knowledge about the spread of the disease, it was blamed on downtown cemeteries. This led to the development of a new type of burial site: the non-sectarian cemetery, according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission website.

Located on the outskirts of cities or urban areas and with no religious association, most so-called garden or park cemeteries were structured as for-profit enterprises or public cemeteries run by municipalities. But a few, like Aulenbach’s, have been licensed as nonprofits.

Aulenbach, however, is not considered a historic burial site under state law, Denbowski said.

A 1994 law defines a historic burial site as “a tract of land which has existed for more than 100 years as a burial site, where there has been no burial for at least 50 years and where there is no There will be no future burial, according to the PHCM website.

The law offers limited protection to historic burial sites.

“The board is totally preparing to walk away from all of this,” Gensemer said. “We don’t have the funds, and we don’t have the manpower.”

Unless the city and Mount Penn intervene, he sees no other way.

If the city agreed to help, Denbowski said, a memorandum of understanding between all parties would likely be required, and council representation on the cemetery board would be notified.

Councilors Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz and Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz said they understand the cemetery’s predicament and are not opposed to providing some type of relief. However, the two fear that any assistance given to the nonprofit could set a precedent for the handling of requests from other nonprofits.

The cemetery board was open and direct in providing financial records and any other information requested by the city, Denbowski said.

It studies the legal liability, if any, of the city regarding the cemetery and also studies state law regarding what would happen if the cemetery folds.

“The reality is, you just don’t leave a graveyard like that — just let go like destroyed property,” Denbowski said. “It’s disrespectful.”


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