By PENNY FLETCHER
RUSKIN — They’ve done all they can with what resources they have.
But now, they’re broke.
The board works for free. B&S Lawn Care’s Bill Maxwell has been mowing for free but he can’t pay his crew to do that much longer.
Wayne Harris, president of the board of the Ruskin Memorial Park Association has offered to give extra space to the Lewis family, because they’re the first plot inside the cemetery’s east entrance and have been run into by cars – not once, but twice — in the last few years and parts of their monuments marred and ornaments destroyed. But there’s no money for Harris to rebuild the entrance; which is how he plans to give the Lewis’s that extra space.
Ruskin Memorial Park has completely run out of funds.
Located at the dead end of First Street S.W. where it meets Manatee Drive and overlooks the Little Manatee River, contrary to popular belief, the cemetery is community owned and not private.
Back at the turn of the last century- around 1906, when the Ruskin Commongood Society was alive and well in the area- the land was deeded “To the Community” of Ruskin.
Many generations of old settlers have been buried there over the years, but most of the descendents of these have since moved away or died out.
“We just haven’t any money,” said Linda Badgerow, who volunteers as board secretary and treasurer. “We’re operating at a loss. We need board members, volunteers and lots of help.”
The way the cemetery association is set up, if volunteers don’t step in quickly, it could be taken over by the state. In fact, the day I was in the cemetery last week, June 3, two members of the State’s Cemetery Association were taking photographs of the damage to some of the trees.
As they were not anxious to talk to a reporter, I did not get their names or business cards but they did identify themselves as being with the State association and when I mentioned an upcoming cleanup, they said “good” and wrote down the date.
The cleanup is sponsored by the Ruskin Woman’s Club, which has taken on the cemetery as its community project.
“This is the first year the (Federation of) Woman’s Club(s) had allowed each club to take on its own project,” said Deb Adams, who co-chairs the project with Debbie Bonebrake.
Until this year, the Federation picked a project for all the clubs to work on, but with the economy as it is, its leaders wisely said each club knew its own community best, Deb Adams said.
When I met with the two, they were making flyers, planning which businesses they would ask to help by donating things like gardening gloves and tools; first aid supplies and drinks and snacks in a small conference room at M&I Bank in Apollo Beach where Deb Adams works.
“The economy is killing us,” Badgerow said in a separate interview at the Dickman Building where she has been employed as office manager for 10 years. “People don’t buy plots. They get cremated. Some of our plots are now as low as $500 and we’ve added a section for babies and a beautiful garden where families can place their cremated loved ones.”
Still, the cemetery continues to operate at a loss.
Because it is a non-profit (501-3-C), the association is audited every year by the state.
“We used to pay for mowing, but three months ago, the money ran out. It costs Bill (Maxwell, owner of B&S Lawn Care) about $800 a month to mow it. Our last service charged us $1,500 so he was really giving us a bargain. But three months ago we stopped paying him. How much longer he can continue to pay his crew and keep coming, we just don’t know,” Debbie Bonebrake said.
The board is looking for retired or semi retired persons to work on fundraisers, and for business persons who can donate work hours and materials; including masonry, cement work, and lawn care.
Deb and Debbie said they hoped groups and organizations could “Adopt a Section” like they do “Adopt a Road” and care for specific areas of the park.
Some families have put in stone or wooden benches; expensive statuary; even bird baths and chimes. The cemetery has beautiful sitting areas and bridges and walking paths.
It is a real family-friendly place.
While I was there, I saw several people sitting on benches. One was talking to unseen family members in a soft voice.
According to Deb Adams, businesses could be recognized for their community service in the form of advertising on flyers or eventually (depending on money raised) plaques.
As of press time, the South Shore 912 group, Ruskin Eagles, Moose, Elks and VFW had signed on to help as well as many volunteers. South Shore Signs and South Shore Rotary and all three local funeral homes are also involved.
For information or to sign up for the clean-up which will take place June 25 from 9 a.m. to noon, call (813) 649-0400 or (813) 645-6491.
“We need to know how many are coming so we can prepare the drinks and refreshments,” Deb and Debbie said. “We are hoping to see a lot of people there, and also get calls about joining our board.”