Though its grounds are filled with the dead, Union Cemetery is a vital entity that must adapt to challenges and customer demands, said Paul T. Walker Jr., general manager of the cemetery since 1996.
are for the living, not for the people that are interred," he
There are many ways a cemetery can serve the living - maintaining the grounds, making available a variety of burial options, offering an online database of graves.But probably the chief concern is having enough land. Union Cemetery
has more than 8 acres remaining, which won't last long based on its history.But Walker
expects the cemetery has about 40 years of capacity remaining, largely because more people are choosing cremation.Instead of needing space for a casket and underground vault, interment of cremated remains often requires just a small box if buried or an urn if put in a mausoleum.
That trend is leading to longer lives for cemeteries.Walker said that when he started as an assistant at Union Cemetery in 1991, the cremation rate was at about 11 percent.By 2005, it had risen to 27 percent, about the U.S. average, according to the International Cemetery and Funeral Association, an industry trade group.Walker
expects cremation rates could reach 50 percent by 2050.
said daily business management is also critical to long-term success.On that front, Union Cemetery
executives have the same concerns as other executives, including the effects of escalating health insurance and gasoline costs.
The cemetery recently switched insurance providers in a move Walker
hopes will stabilize health-insurance costs, which were $100,000 in 2005, or 9 percent of its budget.
"As a business person, I want those numbers to not flip the other way," Walker
The cemetery raised the price of cemetery lots by $50 last year to counterbalance rising expenses.The threat of increasing costs also keeps cemetery officials vigilant in their search for products and services the cemetery can offer to generate income, such as its own line of monuments, which brought in $110,000 last year, or memorial benches near a scattering garden for cremated remains, which cost $5,500 each.
Operators have also put a priority on looking to the long term - whether that is several years or eternity, Walker
credited the Union Cemetery Association's
five-member board for building the mausoleums between 1985 and 1996, for example, and the 2004 installation of the scattering garden.The mausoleums brought in $273,000 in 2005, or 20 percent of the cemetery's revenue, while the sale of burial plots generated $375,000.
Even the decision in 1946 to buy the new portion of the cemetery was critical, since it wasn't long before commercial development along Olentangy River Road eliminated most of the cemetery's expansion potential, Walker
The cemetery in 1954 began putting 25 percent of every burial space sale into a trust that generates interest used for operations.That decision was made decades before a 1976 state law requiring cemeteries put at least 10 percent of sales into such a trust, Walker
The trust totals $3.6 million and generated $155,000 in interest income in 2005.The amount put into the trust per sale was reduced to 10 percent in 1999, allowing the cemetery to save for the purchase of the Union County property, Walker
The trust's ultimate purpose is to provide a source of funding for the cemetery, even after it is filled, he