Cemetery gates

Submitted photo from 2013 shows maintenance neglect at Bethany Cemetery. Volunteers and a new board helped make improvements to the grounds since then. Submitted photo

LOUISIANA—People with relatives buried in Bethany Cemetery have been trying since early 2016 to make improvements to the graveyard, but have not been able to achieve all their goals because of a missing plat book.

The plat book is the registry of all the plots in the cemetery. It shows where people have been laid to rest, which plots are sold and which unused plots are still available for sale.

The current Bethany Cemetery Association has not been able to sell any plots because of the missing plat book, said association secretary Tracy Brookshire.

In early 2016, Carolyn Conner Puskas sent a letter to one of the association’s board members—Charles Davidson, complaining about the maintenance at the cemetery. She noted in her letter that she had been having difficulty getting Charles Stewart Jr. to respond about cemetery maintenance issues. Stewart, at that time, was the association’s president.

She wrote that she had sent photos of her family’s lots in the cemetery to Stewart that showed how poorly the graveyard was being maintained. She noted to Davidson that Stewart was difficult to deal with and sometimes failed to pay the person maintaining the cemetery in a timely manner.

In a letter to Stewart and Davidson in 2016, Puskas wrote that she had found several people willing to help with the cemetery maintenance and collecting donations to help improve the way it looks. It is in this letter that she asks Stewart to bring the plat book to the next association meeting.

Stewart could not be reached for comment.

At the association’s Aug. 10, 2016 meeting, Stewart and Davidson, who were not present, were removed from the board. Puskas, who was on the board by then, noted that all three of the board members, including her, lived outside Pike County, which was a violation of Missouri statute 214.310.3. Mike Buchanan of Frankford was elected president, Puskas was elected secretary and Peggy Hall of Clarksville was elected treasurer.

A clean up day was scheduled in the spring of 2017. That’s when Brookshire said she became interested in helping out. She, too, has relatives buried in the cemetery.

“I have always been big into family history and read in the paper about the cemetery clean up in 2017,” she said. “My uncle Rick Burnett shared the same interest and we both went to help. This is where I met Carolyne and began getting a bit more involved. Personally, I had a couple family member stones that were buried and we were able to resurrect them, one of them I didn’t even know the person existed until we found the stone.”

In later association meeting, Buchanan noted he made two trips to Centralia to meet with Stewart in hopes of retrieving the cemetery plat book.

In his comments, Buchanan wrote that Stewart claimed he did have the plat book but could not meet with him the first time. During his second attempt, Buchanan claimed Stewart said he could not find it because it was not put back where it was supposed to be.

After the new officers took over, Brookshire said maintenance improved. Previous mowers were paid and volunteers helped in maintaining the cemetery.

“Now we have someone that mows it for us for a decent rate but not sure how much longer that will last as he is getting older and trying to retire from his mowing business,” Brookshier said.

She said there are more than 1, 500 plots in the cemetery and it is less than half full at the moment.

At the August 2019 association meeting, new officers were announced. Puskas was made president, Brookshire was elected secretary and Patty Dortch was elected treasurer.

Right now they are attempting to reconstruct the plat book from a copy of the original plat map of the cemetery, Brookshire explained.

Certified letters sent to Stewart were returned unopened.

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