Shelley – Hillcrest Cemetery is abuzz with activity this weekend as loved ones and friends come to pay their respect to those who have passed on. But, a lot goes on behind the scenes to prepare the cemetery for this weekend.
Shelley Hillcrest Cemetery usually is a quiet place where the occasional loved one comes by, sits or stands, thinking of ones who have passed on. However, this morning, the cemetery was bustling with people placing flowers on graves and civic organizations posting American flags in preparation for the memorial day weekend.
For Dan and Karen Eldredge, it is one of the most important weekends of the year. They are the sextons or caretakers of the Shelley Hillcrest Cemetery. Dan and Karen have been at this job for more than 22 years.
“We started in 1999 and have continued here ever since,” Karen Eldredge said. “We are the fourth sexton couple at the cemetery since it became a district in 1931. Frances and Barbara Jensen were the sextons before us for almost twenty-five years.”
The Shelley Hillcrest Cemetery is a maintenance district, which means property taxes fund its maintenance. The map below is a boundary of this district. Each property owner within this boundary pays a tax to maintain this cemetery.
For example, a homeowner with a $200,000 home, with a $100,000 homeowner’s exemption, pays $257.16 each year or a tax levy of 0.000257160, according to Tanna Beal, Bingham County Treasurer.
Before becoming a district, the cemetery was operated by the city of Shelley. The city received most of the land from John F. Shelley, the founder of Shelley, and Adolph M. Neilsen, a local farmer.
Today, the cemetery’s operation is overseen by three elected commissioners, Alan Ball, Mark Bolander, and Kevin Landon. Each serves a four-year term and is elected to the board by citizens within the district.
The advantage to a property owner within the cemetery maintenance district is that they pay less for a gravesite than someone living outside the area, according to Eldredge.
Since becoming sextons, the Eldredge’s have expanded the cemetery one section to the south, built a new maintenance building, purchased land east of the canal for expansion, constructed a new bridge over the canal, removed large pine trees, which were undermining the roads and headstones, and repaired and upgraded the driveways throughout the cemetery.
“The pine trees are challenging because their roots undermine the driveways and the monuments,” Eldredge said. “So we removed some of them and replaced them with elms.”
According to the cemetery records, the oldest known burial site in the cemetery belongs to Patience Herbert, who died in 1892. The records also show that the oldest person, who lived, died, and was buried at Hillcrest, is Ida Woodward, who died at 105.
The biggest challenge in maintaining the cemetery is keeping the lawns well cared for and the area clean.
“Once a year, the Monday after Memorial Day, we clean up everything left around the gravesites, except the headstone itself,” Eldredge said. “This allows the cemetery to be cleaned one time a year from material that has been placed around headstones during the Fall land Winter months.”
As part of the burial agreement, the plot owner maintains the headstone, monument, and concrete base. If they become broken or just repair, the owners or their heirs are responsible to fix it. The cemetery district maintains the lawn, landscaping, and public driveways, Eldredge said.
Over time, some gravesites have fallen into disrepair due to age and the elements. It’s usually those where the families of all passed on, and there’s no one to repair them.
“Dan and I have made efforts to fix some of these older headstones by redoing the base,” Eldredge said. “The commissioners have now agreed to set aside some money each year to repair the really old headstones, where no one is around any longer to fix them.”
Karen Eldredge said her most memorable experiences as sexton have been when people come in to pick their gravesite because they know they will be dying soon.
“A young man came in and wanted to pick out his site so his wife wouldn’t have to. He was married and had children. I found it very touching,” Eldredge said.