HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP (KDKA) – It has been a peaceful final resting place for loved ones for more than a century.
But recently, a local cemetery as fallen into serious neglect, with no one who is clearly responsible for its care.
Around a bend on a steep rise, Union Cemetery has been marking the passage of time – and the passing of some of the earliest German settlers of Hempfield Township, like Jacob Kepple who was born in 1795 and dies in 1857.
“We go back probably almost 200 years,” said Linda Smith, whose family is buried in Union Cemetery.
But over its 124-year existence, only recently has the old cemetery been so neglected.
“It’s heartbreaking to come up here and see this,” said Smith. “I just think of my parent and grandparents.”
Finding his family’s plot overgrown, Sam Smolcic went home for his mower.
“And as long as I’m able, I’ll be able to take care of my own graves,” said Smolcic, “including lots for myself and my wife. The future doesn’t look good.”
On paper, the “Union Cemetery Corporation” actually owns the property, but it’s believed that its directors are long dead and gone.
First Commonwealth Bank is the latest court-appointed trustee. Since 2009, it has paid nearly $140,000 for mowing and opening and closing graves. But that maintenance trust fund is now nearly empty.
The bank is asking the court to transfer care of the cemetery to the municipality which is provided under state law if the cemetery is abandoned.
Neither Hempfield Township’s manager, nor its solicitor was available to respond.
Until a decision is made, those who can will take care of their own.
There won’t be any resolution to this until the court hears the petition on Nov. 24.
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