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Talks continue on potential Oakdale Cemetery project

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    Talks continue on potential plans to construct a columbaria/ossuary plaza, in which the cremated remains of deceased people could be placed and preserved, in Oakdale Cemetery as a way to provide a critical revenue boost to the cemetery that’s struggling in changing times that have more people choosing cremation over a traditional cemetery burial.

    CHEDA Board member Paul Eickhof, owner of Eickhof Columbarium in Crookston, brought the possible project to the board’s attention earlier this fall. At this week’s board meeting, he and CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth said discussions are continuing, and that another meeting has been scheduled for Feb. 10, 2021.

    It would cost around $75,000 to put a columbaria/ossuary structure in Oakdale Cemetery. Hoiseth said he has suggested a low-interest loan to the Oakdale Cemetery Association. With a columbaria/ossuary in place, he said the association would take in enough new revenue to service the debt on the loan. Filling all of the spaces/capacity in the columbaria/ossuary would generate around $400,000 in revenue, according to Hoiseth’s calculations, which he said would be sufficient to pay off the loan, boost the cemetery budget, and provide funds to maintain the structure and cemetery as well. Currently, he continued, the association has some CDs and other funds in the bank and tries to fund maintenance and other things out of proceeds from those funds, but with interest rates so low, not a lot of money is being generated.

    It’s not likely that banks would be clamoring to provide such a loan, he added, leaving it to entities like CHEDA to step in.

    CHEDA Board member and city council member Steve Erickson said it’s a project that warrants serious consideration. “We need to stay on top of it; it would be a good project for them,” he said. “If they go bankrupt, it’s not going to help the City at all. It’s a beautiful part of Crookston.”

    Hoiseth said the Oakdale Cemetery Board has been forthcoming with financial information and other details on how they operate the facility. “We’ve asked for more numbers so we’re not going into this blind,” he noted, adding that the cemetery association is looking at other donors to the project as well.

    Lester Wilkens is the new cemetery board president, and Eickhof said he’s injected some new energy into the cemetery leadership. Eickhof also noted that a couple of substantial donors, who could potentially donate several thousand dollars, have been approached.

    “There’s some forward movement, but we can’t just install (the columbaria/ossuary) and let it sit, it needs to be marketed,” Eickhof explained. He mentioned the Crookston Connections page on Facebook as one way to get the word out to former Crookston residents that there’s a place in their former hometown that their own cremated remains or the cremated remains of their loved ones could be preserved.

    “You’re right, we’ve got a beautiful cemetery down there,” Eickhof continued, mentioning it’s “first-class” fence and “all of the beautiful oak trees.”

    “But you want to keep the community viable,” he added. “You don’t want a crummy looking cemetery.”

    While cremation is becoming the “preferred way of disposition,” Eickhof noted that only 17% of cremated remains are being “brought back to cemeteries” and that most remains are being scattered.

    “This is an opportunity to get into that market, but it needs to be attractive,” he said. “It needs to resonate with people when they go down there.”