BOONE — The Mount Lawn Cemetery Association is awaiting approval from the NC Cemetery Commission to have official ownership over Boone’s perpetual care cemetery, Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens.
The Mount Lawn Cemetery Association is in the process of establishing a trust in order for their contract to be approved by the NC Cemetery Commission, which meets four times a year and is scheduled to meet in April. The association shares that the approval is a “formality” as the commission is already aware of the contract and plans of the Mount Lawn Cemetery Association.
The nonprofit corporation began as a group of community members concerned about the condition of the Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens in June of 2021. The group was led by Jerry Harmon and gathered at a meeting space at Hampton Funeral Services, Inc. Since initially meeting, the group established an official nonprofit corporation with a board of directors and is in the application process to receive a 501 c 13 tax ID number to be used for tax deductions for large donations.
“The upkeep of the cemetery has gone downhill. It doesn’t take very long for you to talk to someone in Boone and hear that they’re upset that the cemetery is not being kept up the way it needs to be or the way people would like for it to be,” said Mount Lawn Cemetery Association President Nancy Williams. “There was a group of people that started meeting in June ... we decided that the way we wanted to try to approach this was to develop a nonprofit association which could gather funds from the community.”
The board of directors, which consists of Nancy G. Williams, Jerry Harmon, Billy Ralph Winkler, Barney Hampton, Mike Austin, Graydon Eggers, David Cottrell and Mike Wilson, officially signed the contract with current cemetery owner Klee Liles on March 10.
Moving forward, the organization has a mission to “purchase, repair, maintain and manage Mount Lawn Cemetery ... to restore the cemetery to a pristine state honoring those who are interred there as well as their families and friends.”
Williams shares that many community members that she has spoken with are interested in making donations but have hesitations about where the money is going.
“My mother and father reside there now and my husband and I probably will, too. We have several plots for families, and many community members are in the same situation,” said Williams. “This is our cemetery, we’re going to need to depend on each other ... There are some initial concerns about where the money is going, people feel like they’ve been burned making donations and not seeing any benefit.”
The Mount Lawn Cemetery Association’s board of directors will not be paid for their services. All donated money will be used for the maintenance of the property and to pay the salaries of the current staff.
Current plans include patching the cemetery roadway which will be done through the donations of Wiley Roark of Maymead, Inc. and Jim Moretz of Moretz Paving. The organization is also working with Branch & Vine Landscape Design long range landscape planning, focusing mainly on the entryway to start.
Hampton Funeral Service, Inc. owner and president and Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens former owner Barney Hampton shared that he believes the entire community should be interested in what is happening at the cemetery.
“It’s very important for the community and all the county, and people in other counties to know that this is happening,” said Hampton. “Drive up (the cemetery road) and see the condition of the street, the holes in the pavement, the buildings and mausoleum need painting.”
The 13.26 acre Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens was established in the 1950s after William Sturdivant of North Wilkesboro purchased the land. Sturdivant was the owner of Reins-Sturdivant Funeral Home, which had locations in North Wilkesboro, Boone, West Jefferson, Newland and Independence, Va. Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens became Boone’s first perpetual care cemetery.
The cemetery went through 11 owners between its conception in the 1950s and current day. The current owner Liles purchased the cemetery out of bankruptcy in February of 2005 after previous owner Derek Roberts pleaded guilty to two counts of identity fraud and was accused of embezzlement.
In 2018, Liles offered the property to the town after receiving no credible offers in his attempt to sell the cemetery. After the town declined his offer, Liles sought other options. If he had abandoned his role with the cemetery, it would have gone under authority of the county, though it would not have the responsibility to manage it.
“Klee has been there for 17 years trying to make a go of it, and he just hasn’t had the means to do it. He could have walked away and moved to California and just left it, but he didn’t do that,” said Williams. “He’s done a great job with what he had to work with.”
The Mount Lawn Cemetery Association is currently accepting donations to restore and maintain the condition of Mount Lawn Memorial Park and Gardens. To learn more about the Mount Lawn Cemetery Association, call their office at (828) 264-3977.