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December 10, 2019

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Various opinions aired concerning Shannon Cemetery at Monday's council meeting

A standing-room only audience of nearly 50 persons packed Bluffton council chambers on Monday.  Most of those attending had a viewpoint to share about the Shannon Cemetery on Jefferson Street.

Eleven persons - residents, former residents, and others interested in cemetery preservation - addressed council, offering opinions on what should or should not take place there.

David Steiner, council president, presided over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Judy Augsburger.

Council President Steiner outlined the evening’s agenda by announcing that Richard Boehr would first provide a summary of what has taken place at the cemetery.

Following Boehr’s comments Steve Chamberlain, village solicitor, would present a report on his legal opinion concerning the cemetery.

Following the solicitor, persons from the floor had an opportunity to address council.

Boehr’s summary

Boehr, who initiated work on the cemetery, said that discussions have gone on for the past 10 years on what to do about it.

He said that he has researched county auditor records, county surveys, county engineer records and genealogical collections in Allen and Hancock counties to gather as much information about the cemetery as possible.

He said that the cemetery was property of the Richland Township Trustees until it was transferred to the Village of Bluffton in October 2010.

He said that the plat map to the cemetery is lost and that many of the gravestones were difficult to read. Stones have been moved around, broken and dumped into the creek.

Twenty percent of the cemetery was lost when Jefferson Street was created. Today the street is paved over some of the original graves. Those gravestones were removed and scattered or placed in locations where there weren’t graves.

He said that after he took an interest in the cemetery he offered plans with the intention of preserving the area.

“We want to recognize who is buried there,” he said. “This is a volunteer effort and we are looking for donations from people to help in this project.”

Chamberlain’s report

The solicitor addressed five questions asked about the cemetery and addressed those in a memorandum to the Bluffton council. The following is a paraphrase of his remarks. The Icon will post his memorandum later this week.

First question: Who owns the cemetery?
Answer: The Village of Bluffton.

Second question: Who decides what can take place at the cemetery?
Answer: The Village of Bluffton.

Third question: Is the movement of headstones legal?
Answer: Yes.

Fourth question: In what ways can the Village of Bluffton oversee the cemetery?
Answer:
A – With a sexton. The village already has a sexton for Maple Grove Cemetery.
B – The mayor may appoint a three-member board of trustees. The three must be village residents. 
C – An ad hoc special committee may be appointed to oversee the cemetery.

Fifth question: Have crimes been committed by action taken place at the cemetery?
Answer: No. The village has sanctioned Mr. Boehr as a volunteer.

Chamberlain said that no human exhumations have occurred at the cemetery.

Here is a brief paraphrase of some of the comments from persons who addressed council. They are listed in the order that they spoke.

1 – Ray Mumma, Bluffton High School graduate, now living outside Bluffton.
“I oppose the way it was done. Those graves need to be marked. Disrespect was shown and the removal was inexcusable. Every grave should be marked.”

2 – Tracy McIlroy, former Bluffton resident.
“I feel it is wrong to remove the headstones.”

3 – Mark Morton, cemetery conservator.
“I believe in keeping the integrity of the cemetery. I’ve seen gravestone placed in one spot. Concrete will do them harm.”

4 – Tony Mumma, grew up in Bluffton, now living elsewhere.
“My ancestors came here in the 1830s. It’s all about heritage. The desecration should never have happened. All of the sudden, between 2003 and 2010, the village of Bluffton has shown no interest in it. I think it is totally wrong (what took place). It’s something you don’t do. If it’s legal or not, it’s unlawful.”

5 – Darrell Huber, a resident outside of Bluffton.
“My family has deep roots here. It deeply bothers me. Barbara Huber’s gravestone was still standing, yes, it was leaning, but it was removed. Please change the plans for the cemetery. I’m not really happy with what has happened. There are veterans buried in that cemetery.”

6 – Sue Cramer, Bluffton resident.
“We have lived beside the cemetery for 26 years I do believe you are in violation of the Ohio Revised Code.  My brother, James, who lives in Columbus, says that there is a way to return the headstones back to their original location. If you need some help we live here and we can volunteer.”

7 – Terry Downey, Bluffton resident.
“I’ve lived here for 61 years. I’m proud of our community. Suddenly when I saw all the tombstones gone I saw that they were piled on top of each other. I thought to myself, ‘What has happened?’  I was shocked. In this quaint village of Bluffton how could this happen? God is sad right now. We are Christian people in this community. I think we need to think twice. We don’t need another park. We need to rebuilt the cemetery the way it was.”

8 – Mike Zimmerman, Bluffton High School graduate, living in rural Bluffton.
“I represent the American Legion Post. There are veterans buried in the Shannon Cemetery. The legion wants to be part of the committee that oversees the cemetery.”

9 – John Murray, Bluffton resident.
“I’m a fifth generation Bluffton resident. My great-grandfather was the first undertaker in Bluffton. He buried many of the people in the cemetery. I want to thank Dick Boehr for all the work he has done. I’m sure we don’t know where all those graves are.”

10 – Dr. Darrell Groman, Bluffton resident.
“I’m representing the Bluffton Boy Scouts. The scouts do a lot of community service. We were asked by Mr. Boehr to come to the cemetery and help. The Shannon Cemetery is in disrepair. Gravestones are tossed into the creek. The Boy Scouts were asked to help and are happy to do community service. If asked again, we are willing to help with the cemetery. The cemetery needs our attention.”

11 – Catherine Weyer, former Bluffton resident.
“I think you are all missing the boat here. You’ve lost it. You’ve taken the stones. Bluffton has a rich history. Students could go to the cemetery and learn about the past. I’m a great genealogy buff. This could be preserved. I’m willing to help preserve the tombstones.”