Farrell Brown has been a regular visitor to Loveland Burial Park since 1995, when his 18-year-old daughter, Amy, died of a brain aneurysm.
After Amy’s unexpected death, Brown began to carry memories to his daughter’s grave, transforming it into a space of comfort and reflection for those close to Amy, including Amy’s young daughter, Kilayne.
Brown cast his granddaughter’s handprints in plaster and placed them on Amy’s grave when Kilayne was about a year old. When Brown’s mother was buried nearby, Amy’s aunt, Kelli Couch, began collecting pennies matching family members’ birth years, keeping them in an angel-shaped container next to her. his mother’s gravestone.
“I always felt comfortable walking into this cemetery because there were so many precious things people were taking care of,” Brown said. “It never sounded garish. It was a comfort to know that there were so many loved ones that people cared about. “
Some objects, like the handprints, were there from 1995 until October of this year.
On November 1, Couch visited the cemetery and was shocked to find that their decades-old memories were gone.
“I went over there and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ because everything on the graves was gone,” Couch said. “It was like a slug in my stomach. I couldn’t believe it.
When they contacted the city-run cemetery, the family learned that the items had been collected during the city’s seasonal cleanup. Cemetery staff told them that there was nothing they could do to retrieve the items as they had already been thrown away.
“I said, ‘God have mercy on your soul, this is sacred ground,'” said Brown. “My daughter has been there for 26 years and nothing has ever been taken from her grave. Now I’m afraid to bring anything back there.
“This is my mother’s house, and this is where we come to visit her. And it was like someone had just walked into his house and stole everything from him, ”Couch said.
The fall clean-up of Loveland Funeral Park shocked Brown’s family and others after they said workers went beyond past clean-ups, dismissing without warning the memories and tributes that had long graced graves.
While the city’s director of parks, Dan Willadsen, said the de facto policy when cleaning up is to leave items on graves in “well-maintained” spaces, as long as these items are not broken or fall out. not in pieces, Farrell and others insist on the graves of their loved ones. have been carefully maintained.
Willadsen admitted that the cleanup, which was handled by a group of city employees new to the job, had in some cases gone too far.
“I believe we took things that we shouldn’t have taken, and I will bear the responsibility for that myself,” he said. “We have frankly had people come to us and thank us and say they haven’t seen a major cleanup like this in years. But I think there’s a difference between a big cleanup and a cleanup that takes people’s belongings.
He said he had personally spoken to several people who had lost items during the cleanup and that other cemetery staff were likely approached by others.
Loveland Burial Park typically does its seasonal cleaning in April and October, after notifying families a month in advance to remove artificial flowers and decorations from flat markers as well as worn, out-of-season decorations from vertical headstones.
Information about the clean-up was published ahead of time in the Reporter-Herald and on social media, although families said they were unaware of the clean-up or not aware of it this time.
Debby Nichols had an unpleasant shock last month when she found missing items in her parents’ graves. Seen from US 287, the graves of Glen and May Hodges have been a stopping point for their family since Glen was laid to rest at Loveland Burial Park in 1999 and May was buried in 2015.
“It has been like our flagship,” Nichols said. “You drove over there, and looked for the shepherd’s hook, and there was mommy and daddy. “
Nichols’ daughter, Meredith Nichols-Diller, remembered when she was younger and, by the way, pointed out to friends the shepherd’s hook planted next to the graves that the family had painted red, Glen’s favorite color and May, and decorated with garlands of seasonal flowers and leaves.
“It would just grab your attention and still give me good feelings,” Nichols-Diller said.
The solid steel hook was a visual reminder of Nichols’ parents and Nichols-Diller’s grandparents in the heart of their hometown until October of this year.
“It’s really disheartening,” Nichols said. “I remember when my mom and dad stood there, and they chose this plot. Now I wonder, do I really want to be buried there? “
Another person, Lisa Rosenhagen, said a statuette of the Virgin Mary more than a century old was taken from her mother’s grave along with solar lamps and small knick-knacks.
The statuette was in Rosenhagen’s grandmother’s garden before being in her mother’s house. When Rosenhagen contacted the cemetery about the statuette, they told him about the cleanup and said the head had fallen off.
“It was concrete so it would be almost impossible for it to fall, but it can be fixed,” she said. “I walk past the cemetery daily because I live in Loveland and have never seen it damaged. “
“I was really upset that they left it up to the cleaning crew to do whatever they wanted. Some things were left on some graves and some not, and that made me quite angry, ”she added.
Willadsen said the staff of the Parks and Recreation department was reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the reorganization of employees from different areas of the department into cemetery roles. These people may not have been familiar with how past cleanups have been handled and how cleanups in practice differ from the letter of city rules.
“The new team probably didn’t know how the old team did things,” said Willadsen. “Basically, without a lot of historical knowledge of how the cemetery worked, they read the rules and regulations to understand what their job was? What were they supposed to do? “
In response to this year’s controversy, Willadsen said the department will change the way it notifies the relatives of people buried at Loveland Burial Park of cleanups, placing signage throughout the cemetery shortly before the cleanup, so that regular visitors know how to remove items in advance.
He said items placed on a gravestone or marker shouldn’t be a problem, unless it was, for example, fake flowers that have collapsed. But if any items need to be removed as part of a cleanup, they will be stored for families to retrieve later.
“I think that line got a bit blurry in terms of things on the gravestone that didn’t get in the way,” Willadsen said. “We’re trying to put these things in place so that in general what happened here does not happen again.”
And he invited members of the public who were affected by the cleanup to call him at 970-962-2729.
Brown says she and others plan to raise the issue at an upcoming city council meeting, to let more people know what happened and ensure no tributes are lost at the graves .
“As a mother, it’s like you still have a feeling of protection from them, like they’re alive,” she said. “They weren’t allowed to do that.