By LOIS KINDLE
If you’ve lived in the area for any length of time, you’re probably aware of the community cemetery at 204 Manatee Drive in Ruskin. It’s been serving residents and their loved ones since 1903, when the first burial took place there.
The cemetery has always been maintained by community volunteers over its long history, but participation has waned in recent years to the point that the park is now in danger of falling into state hands. As a result, the Ruskin Memorial Park Association, a 501(c)3 corporation, is making a last-ditch effort to get a group of civic-minded people to take on volunteer management of the park, including caretaking, maintenance of plot and map locations, sales and interaction with area funeral homes and families.
Until recently, the Ruskin Woman’s Club has championed the park and facilitated two annual volunteer cleanups, but it can no longer do so, said Deb Bonebrake, one of two club members who’ve been spearheading the effort.
Bonebrake noted that with everything going on in her life (and the fact that her counterpart, Deb Adams, was recently transferred to work in South Tampa), she felt “it’s time for the community to jump in if they want the cemetery to stay as their community park.”
“If the state takes over the cemetery, we have $110,000 in a trust fund set up with the state for possible future maintenance,” said Linda Badgerow, treasurer of the Ruskin Memorial Park Association.
Per state mandate, she sends 10 percent from every sale to be deposited into the fund.
Currently the association pays Edwin Parrish Lawn Service, of Ruskin, to keep the cemetery mowed. The owner used to do the work for free when the cemetery was paying $3,000 a month on a $360,000 loan the former cemetery board secured in 1999 for an expansion project. The loan covered the addition of a mausoleum, gazebo, memory garden and new section of plots on the north side of the park property.
Badgerow said when the note was paid off in February and additional plots were sold, the decision was made to compensate Parrish for his services.
The association is also paying for twice-weekly trash pickups for public dumping on site.
The park has several immediate needs:
Due to potholes, the road in the original section of the cemetery requires repaving.
A privacy fence is needed on the west side of the north section to separate the mausoleum from neighboring homes.
A caretaker is needed to enforce the cemetery’s rules that include one flower per grave; no plants or decorations; no glass, alcoholic beverages or illegal dumping; or loitering.
“We are planning to apply for a couple of grants to cover the costs, but there’s no guarantee we’ll get anything,” Badgerow said. “We’re also working on a website to set up a GoFundMe account for any donations. We desperately need support.
“I’m at the point where, as a volunteer, I just can’t do everything myself,” said Badgerow, who has a full-time position with Dickman Companies and is a licensed real estate agent. “If we don’t get people to run this historic cemetery, the state will take over.”
Approximately 1,600 sites are presently available, mostly in the new section where markers are placed in ground. Anyone can be buried in the cemetery’s niches, crypts or flat-stone burial spots. The cost is considerably less right now because as a community cemetery, its property has no perpetual care arrangement like most for-profit cemeteries. Even when spaces are sold out, the cemetery will always need maintenance.
“We need people who are willing to learn, who care about the community, have good people skills and can help raise funds,” Badgerow said.
Anyone who can help in any way is encouraged to call her at 813-695-5515 or email email@example.com. For information on the cemetery itself, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ruskinmemorialpark.org.