OXFORD, Ga. — At least one person with relatives buried in the Oxford Historical Cemetery says he is fed up with the upkeep of the antebellum burial grounds despite a nonprofit tasked with maintaining it having hundreds of thousands in the bank.
But the nonprofit’s board chairman defends the crew that mows and trims around the sometime-ancient headstones in the cemetery.
The cemetery board also is bound by state law to maintain a fund and only use the interest from its investment for maintenance, the chairman said.
Norm Lewis’ wife, mother and father are buried in the 184-year-old cemetery, which makes Lewis a member of the nonprofit Oxford Historical Cemetery Foundation Inc. that maintains it.
He said “every time” he travels to the cemetery to visit his loved ones’ graves “there’s always an issue about maintenance.”
In a visit on Mother’s Day, he said the grass was 8 to 10 inches high in spots.
The Loganville resident said information disclosed at a recent annual meeting showed the foundation had hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank but was only using the interest from the account to maintain the cemetery’s 9 acres which date to 1837.
Lewis said he believed those the foundation hired to cut the grass around the markers of various ages and styles had not taken enough care in avoiding the headstones with mowers.
He said something appeared to have struck and damaged the corners of some stone markers.
In one instance, someone or something had toppled the marker of Lewis’ great-great-great-grandfather, Dr. Alexander Means, who died in 1845, Lewis said.
He said his extended family had pooled its resources and spent a “considerable” amount to hire a restoration expert to piece it back together.
The family did not want to wait for the foundation to respond to a request to rebuild it because they were confident nothing would be done, Lewis said.
“Spoke with a family member who said we also didn’t want to see Dr. Means’ stone just laying on the ground in total disarray not knowing if it would ever be fixed,” he said.
Lewis said others feel the same way and apparently expressed their dissatisfaction to Oxford City Council members who discussed their concerns with Foundation member earlier this year.
A city official did not return a call for comment by the newspaper’s deadline.
The Oxford Cemetery is owned by the city of Oxford and was established in 1837 for residents of Oxford and those related to Emory College, according to information from the city.
The Oxford Historical Cemetery Foundation Inc. was organized in 1965 as a nonprofit to support the city in maintaining the cemetery grounds at a time when the city was unable to do so financially, said Foundation board chairman John Burson.
Membership in the Foundation is based on ownership of a cemetery lot or by donation.
Burson said the cemetery board is bound by state law to maintain a fund — which Lewis said reportedly totals $400,000 — and only use the interest from its investment for maintenance.
He said the interest and an annual donation from the city are used to pay for the labor and supplies needed to do the work.
He said he visits the cemetery “quite often” and has watched the two-person crew using a zero-turn mower and trimmer be “mighty careful” in trimming around the memorials.
“I never see her going too fast,” he said. “If they damaged something, I would feel safe to say they’d report it.”
He said there was no evidence of any damage from mowers striking the stones.
Burson also said he knew about the recent toppling incident but believed it could have been the work of vandals rather than a mower.
He noted recent complaints have included grass not being cut in a timely manner — a practice Burson said was the result of having to wait on the 9 acres of grass to dry out during rainy weather before it could be mowed.
Cemetery officials, including Burson and Foundation President Anderson Wright, have personal stakes in the maintenance of the cemetery because both have relatives buried there, Burson said.
He said his 19-year-old son was buried there after an accidental shooting in 1968.