NBC 5 Responds

Gravestones sit uninstalled at Cedar Park Cemetery; NBC 5 Responds gets results

For the past two years, we’ve been looking into complaints of overgrown graves, poor maintenance and disrepair at the historic Cedar Park cemetery in Calumet city.

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For the past two years, NBC 5 Responds has been looking into complaints of overgrown graves, poor maintenance and disrepair at the historic Cedar Park cemetery in Calumet Park.

After one family’s grave monument was damaged this summer and they couldn’t get the cemetery’s attention, they turned to NBC 5 Responds Investigator PJ Randhawa.

Under the cedar trees, on a landscape dotted by deer, you can find Juliana Krilich visiting her great grandmother’s grave at Cedar Park cemetery. Elizabeth Preston died in 2018.

“When I get down or sad, or I miss her, I come and visit and I sit here. I used to be able to sit and look out and talk to her and just kind of be at peace,” said Krilich, who has several generations of family buried at the cemetery.

Elizabeth & Don Preston, buried in Cedar Park Cemetery

Preston’s memorial bench was meant to stand out in a cemetery with many overgrown graves. Before her passing, Preston worried her grave would be overgrown and invisible at Cedar Park Cemetery.

“When my dad died, my mom goes, ‘I don't want it overgrown. I don't want your dad and I to be lost,'" said Barbara Nolan, Krilich’s grandmother and Preston’s daughter. "My daughter was with us and she goes, 'Grandma why don't we get a bench and then it'll be up and raised, and we can always see you and grandpa'. And that's what we did. And she was very proud of it."

But in July, a devastating discovery- the bench was damaged. It’s unclear how or when the damage took place.  

“It was gut-wrenching. It was sad, you know, thinking that this is how I have to come pay my respects. It's sad. It's really sad,” said Krilich.

Preston's damaged memorial bench. courtesy: Juliana Krilich

The family immediately contacted the Cedar Park cemetery office.

“We've called several times, [we’re told] ‘We'll call you back tomorrow, we'll call you back’. [Then] nothing, nothing. So we just gave up and contacted [NBC 5 Responds] in the hopes something will be done and respect would be shown. It's pretty sad to come and see your parents marker like this,” said Nolan.

NBC 5 Responds has been here before. In 2021, we investigated complaints the cemetery was overgrown and in disrepair- with gravestones sitting, uninstalled, on burial plots.  

Two years later, we noticed dozens of grave markers still unanchored, some several years old. In many cases, the grass and ground shifting below.

Joi Andrews finds her friend's gravestone isn't anchored into the ground. Andrews says it has shifted since she last visited it.

“You can almost feel underneath [the grave stone]. It's just barely sitting in there,” said Joi Andrews, who comes to the cemetery several times a year to visit her best friend’s grave. Seidah Parham passed away of colon cancer in 2016 at the age of 28.

Parham’s gravestone has been at Cedar Park Cemetery since 2021, but like so many others in this area, it hasn’t been installed.

“To me, it's an act of disrespect. It really, really is showing that [the cemetery] don't care at all,” said Andrews.

A gravestone that has sat uninstalled for several years. The ground below has shifted and pushed the gravestone to an angle

NBC 5 Responds met with cemetery manager Kevin Carter to get answers.

Carter confirmed anyone who has a loved one buried at Cedar Park Cemetery is paying an installation fee between $425 to $1,200.

NBC 5 Responds asked Carter where that money was going, as countless grave stones, many several years old, remain uninstalled across the cemetery.

“Well, we have it. The headstones will be taken care of, you know, leave that to the grounds manager,” said Carter. “It's not something that we're going to run from or not do.”

We wanted to know why so many grave stones haven’t been installed.

“It's a big cemetery. Yeah. [Our head of maintenance] may miss something, or something like that. But it's no problem with getting it taken care of,” said Carter.

He said COVID also slowed down the installation process. It takes up to 45 minutes to install each one.

Next, we asked about the long delay to fix Preston’s damaged memorial bench, which sits off of one of the cemetery’s main roads. The damage occurred in July, and Carter verifies there are six workers who maintain the grounds. So why didn’t any employee report the damage?

“That's a question. I don't know,” said Carter, who paused to question his Head of maintenance about the first time he saw the damage. “Last week [was] the first time. And [maintenance is] cutting the grass and yeah if they see something like this, they should report it.

Only after our inquiries did Carter and his staff finally fix Preston’s memorial bench. He said the family originally reported the damage as vandalism, something the cemetery doesn’t cover, and that may explain the long delay in response.

Parham's installed grave. Courtesy: Kevin Carter

“We would like for the customers to go through the proper channels first, maybe before contacting the news or the state. Report it to the office, they will do what we call a work order,” said Carter.

After taking Carter and his head of maintenance to Parham’s grave, her stone was finally installed later that day.
But several surrounding gravestones, delivered since 2021, still sit unsecured.

We sent Carter a list of 13 uninstalled grave stones we came across in the cemetery and asked for an update on when they would be installed. Some date back to 2015, but Carter maintained all of the uninstalled stones arrived at the cemetery in 2021 or later.

Carter told us he is committed to getting those unsecured grave markers installed.

One of several grave stones sitting on top of the grass, uninstalled, in Cedar Park Cemetery. Cemetery manager, Kevin Carter, says the stone has been waiting for installation since 2021.

“I just appreciate all your help and what you can do to get them to do what they're supposed to do,” said Nolan.

While they’re thankful for the repairs, this family says they’re ready to cut ties with Cedar Park cemetery.

“We won't add family members here. In our family, cremation seems to be the thing because of this. This will be the end. But as long as I'm alive I'll be coming to pay respect,” Nolan said.

Elizabeth Preston's bench repaired after NBC 5 Responds intervened. Courtesy: Juliana Krilich
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