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October 7, 2010

Grave marker repo puts focus on cemetery

Anderson Memorial Park replaces plaque, says policy changed

ANDERSON, Ind. — A repossessed burial marker has been replaced on the 20-year-old grave of a local veteran at an Anderson cemetery, but not before a state lawmaker intervened and a state cemetery organization criticized its removal.

“You don’t go and pull a World War II veteran, Purple Heart recipient’s grave marker, especially 20 years after the fact,” said Daniel Ogle, grandson of Wilbur Earlywine. Ogle said that he noticed his grandfather’s marker missing when he moved back to the area two months ago and visited his grandfather’s grave at Anderson Memorial Park Cemetery.

Ogle’s sister, Pam Novotney, said the cemetery initially refused to replace the marker because of an unpaid bill. She said the grandchildren had no knowledge that a debt was owed until the marker was removed. She said the grandchildren were willing to pay what they believed was owed, but the cemetery demanded more.

“No one deserves this,” Novotney said. “It’s very disrespectful.”

Anderson Memorial Park in the 6800 block of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, has since replaced the bronze memorial marker, but in a statement initially appeared to justify the removal:

“The family had signed contractual agreements to pay for his burial service and his custom bronze memorial marker. Unfortunately, neither bill was paid. After years of trying to recover payment, Anderson Memorial Park finally removed the custom memorial marker in early 2008. ...

“Although Anderson Memorial Park has the right to insist on payment for the goods and services it provided to Mr. Earlywine’s family, Anderson Memorial Park has replaced the custom bronze memorial marker on his grave. We here at Anderson Memorial Park Cemetery did not intend any disrespect to Mr. Earlywine or his service to our country.”

An Anderson Memorial Park official said the practice of repossessing markers has been discontinued, and that all markers now must be paid for up-front.

Mike Austin, an attorney representing the cemetery, said, “This won’t (recur). I think Anderson Memorial Park would agree that it was a mistake to remove the marker. ... I think it would be a very rare thing to begin with. ... It’s unfortunate it was handled this way.”

Novotney said that when she learned that her grandfather’s grave marker had been repossessed, she contacted the office of state Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. “I was kind of surprised by the information,” Lanane said. “I’d never heard of such a thing.”

Lanane’s office contacted the Fort Wayne-based Indiana Cemetery Association. Its executive director, Casey Miller, said board officers discussed the situation when it was brought to the group’s attention.

“We don’t endorse this practice; it’s not accepted in the norms of the industry,” Miller said of repossessing grave markers.

“The official position of the cemetery association is once a memorial has been placed on the burial space, typically the policy is to never remove it unless specifically instructed by the family to do so,” he said.

Ogle said he has heard from other people with similar stories.

Questions or complaints?

People who have questions, complaints or disputes regarding cemeteries, cremations or funerals have someplace to turn. The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association offers an online Consumer Resource Guide at Click on “Complaint Resolution Services” for free assistance. The same information can be accessed by phone at (703) 391-8407


Contact Dave Stafford: 648-4250,


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