Champlin officials wanted to restore order to the city’s cemetery when they barred certain grave site decorations this summer. Now some residents are saying they wiped away what made the place special.
Officials decided this summer to modify the city’s policies for grave sites, and enforce some old ones, after hearing complaints that the tributes were getting out of hand. Families had installed benches, brick pavers and even a makeshift flower bed around the graves. Some headstones were accompanied by crosses and figurines of dogs and angels.
“They had become almost shrines,” City Administrator Bret Heitkamp said.
The City Council approved new policies in July that outlawed benches and bricks, and clarified rules that grave sites were limited to one planter and shepherd’s hook. It alerted families that enforcement of those rules and some existing policies would go into effect Oct. 1.
“I came up there one day and literally everything was ripped out of the ground. Everything was taken off the headstone,” said Joni Amundson, whose 16-year-old son Bradley is buried in the cemetery.
Bradley Amundson, who died in a swimming accident in 2004, is buried next to his father, Bruce, who died last year. Wooden crosses bearing their names had been removed — the one on Bruce’s grave was his only marker — as well as an engraved stone embedded in the soil and a number of other decorative items. A bench that park staffers gave to the family after Bradley’s death was out for repairs, but Amundson said it wouldn’t be permitted back.
The items taken off the graves were put into boxes for family members to retrieve.
“It feels like the cemetery has been erased of every personal feeling that it used to have,” said Amundson, who wasn’t aware the changes had been discussed until they were approved.
Amundson was among several people who addressed the City Council at a meeting in late November about the issue. Another was Tim Erickson, who was Bradley’s scoutmaster.
“I can understand why they want to go out there and leave a few embellishments,” Erickson told the council. “It gives them a little bit of solace. And it might just ease their heart a little bit. And now that’s been taken away from them.”
An agenda item prepared in July by the parks staff said the changes were responding to “ongoing maintenance and aesthetic issues.” However, Heitkamp said, resident complaints ultimately spurred the decision.
“Our maintenance staff obviously presented concerns, but we had kind of looked the other way out of respect,” Heitkamp said.
Responding at the recent council meeting, Champlin Mayor Ryan Karasek said city leaders had deliberated for many hours over the change. He said he has talked to many residents on both sides of the issue.
“Everybody wants something a little different, right?” Karasek said. “Some person may want to have all kinds of different stuff, where another person might want it to be really simple and neat and clean and organized and they don’t want a lot of stuff. So it’s difficult.”