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OPINION

Editorial: Oakdale Cemetery must be preserved

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    When a community like Crookston tries to market itself to people who might want to come here to live, work, play and learn and all of that slogan-y stuff, it's all about quality of life. It's all about quality of place. Yes, obviously, it’s about housing and jobs first and foremost. But it’s far more than that. How many times have you heard about Crookston's excellent parks and recreational facilities, and the river, and our excellent health care facilities, and schools, and U of M campus, and our small-town safety? "A great place to raise a family" and all of that...

    One thing we never hear?

    "Oh, and Crookston has a beautiful cemetery." You'll never see a digital billboard, a promotional pamphlet or commercial with a marketing slogan like "Come to Crookston to live, work, play and learn..and die."

    But Oakdale Cemetery is a beautiful place. There's absolutely no denying it. Do other towns with 8,000 people have cemeteries on par with our Oakdale Cemetery, with its expansive size, its maze of paved paths, its peaceful location and the serenity it envelopes its visitors in?

    But Oakdale Cemetery, like cemeteries across the nation, is struggling. People's philosophies on what they want to become of their bodies after they die are changing. Traditional burial takes up land and it's costly. Cremation is more environmentally friendly and its cheaper. It's growing in popularity, big-time.

    So what's a traditional cemetery to do? You can't just throw up your arms and give up. You have to be respectful to all of the people who are buried there, as well as their families. We're talking about "final resting place" here, after all. That’s a very big deal. You have to mow all those acres. You have to keep those weeds trimmed. There's a lot to maintain. Keeping Oakdale Cemetery in good condition is an enormous task.

    At last week's CHEDA Board of Directors meeting, board member Paul Eickhof, who owns Crookston's Eickhof Columbaria, hinted that Oakdale Cemetery's days are numbered, at least in the way it’s led and operated now, if they can't find a way to boost their finances. CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth was even more blunt, saying the cemetery non-profit might have to just throw up its arms and say, "Here, Crookston, here's your cemetery” if nothing changes.

    Eickhof's business, constructing and selling columbariums and ossuaries, is all about providing a lasting, beautiful location for cremated remains to be placed. They have clients across the nation and worldwide.

    Eickhof wants to put a columbaria/ossuary "plaza" in Oakdale Cemetery to provide a new revenue stream to the cemetery. A plan that includes marketing such a plaza - Eickhof said Oakdale Cemetery leaders have never really had to market the cemetery - would cost $50,000 to $60,000.

    There are more details to come, so stay tuned.

    We need our Oakdale Cemetery. We can't just let it go. In a world focused on quality of place, it's a high-quality place.

Mike Christopherson