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CHEDA Board member Eickhof, of Eickhof Columbaria, working with Oakdale Cemetery

Eickhof, a CHEDA Board member, says Oakdale Cemetery needs a new revenue stream; CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth says without a revenue boost, it likely won't survive

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

Paul Eickhof, owner of Eickhof Columbaria in Crookston’s industrial park, which constructs and sells columbaria and ossuaries in which the cremated remains of people can be placed and preserved, says he’s working with the Oakdale Cemetery Board and its association on strategies that could help the cemetery, struggling financially, to remain viable over the long-term.

    Oakdale Cemetery is not alone; many cemeteries are struggling with a lack of available land but also because of a change in people’s philosophy about their preferences when they die. More people are choosing to be cremated because it’s more environmentally friendly and it’s less expensive than a traditional burial.

    Eickhof, a member of the CHEDA Board of Directors, told the board he’s working with Oakdale Cemetery leaders on developing a columbarium and ossuary plaza in the cemetery that would provide the cemetery a continued source of revenue.

    “They’re in pretty bad financial shape; we’re looking for some sort of plan to get them up and running,” Eickhof said. Cemetery Board President Lester Wilkens, Eickhof continued, has put a plan together, but the association lacks the funds to execute it.

    CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth noted that Oakdale Cemetery received a small allocation of CARES Act dollars made available because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and could possibly be in line to receive some more, but it’s facing an uphill budget battle.

    “This problem has been brewing for several years across America,” Hoiseth said. “One of these days, this non-profit is going to throw their hands up and say, ‘Here you go, Crookston, here’s your cemetery.’”

    Hoiseth suggested that a couple CHEDA Board members step up and work with Eickhof and the cemetery board to take a proactive approach toward identifying a plan. “Let’s really get our arms around this issue,” he said. “It’s coming at us; it’s just a matter of when, and they won’t be solvent.”

    Eickhof said it’s new territory for Oakdale Cemetery leadership.

    “They haven’t had to make many decisions like this,” he noted. “They’ve never had to market.”

    Cremation gives the survivors of deceased loved ones all kinds of options for the remaining ashes, Eickhof continued. They can scatter them in special places, leave them in an urn on the mantel, or whatever they wish. Placing them in a columbaria or ossuary in a peaceful, beautiful cemetery is also an option that’s growing in popularity, he said.

    “There are all kinds of reasons to keep a cemetery viable in a community,” Eickhof said. “But it needs to look nice.”

    He said he’d be looking to identify an agenda with Oakdale Cemetery leaders to market cremation. He figures the project will require an investment of $50,000 to $60,000.

    “They have some land available for traditional burial and they won’t give that up,” Eickhof said. “A columbarium doesn’t require much land.”

    He added that he’s been working on similar ventures for years with cemeteries across the country.