Cemetery’s maintenance criticized: Sharon Hills Memorial Park plot holders list complaints on Facebook

DOVER — This much is known:

A new Facebook page aimed at banding together Sharon Hills Memorial Park plot holders accumulated more than 40 members shortly after last week’s launch.

The Sharon Hills Cemetery Friends and Support page quickly drew a litany of complaints about the burial grounds west of Dover.

Supposedly overgrown weeds, cracked walkways and clumped grass from delayed cutting were frequently referenced last week.

A mostly dead tree that towers over the premises doesn’t help the aesthetic value either, according to customers.

That’s just not so, according to the cemetery.

Cheryl Thompson-Young, left, and Debbie Virdin walk on a overgrown pathway at Sharon Hills Cemetery near Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

On Monday, a Sharon Hills staff member who answered a reporter’s phone call seeking comment said, “We’ve not ever not cleaned it up. The best thing you can do is come out to see for yourself.”

The staffer said she hadn’t seen the plot holder’s startup Facebook page.

“We take the complaints, we inspect it and we call the family that day to take care of it,” she said. “We’re not going to make any comment about this.”

The employee then said “Goodbye” and hung up.

By mid-afternoon Monday, the page had 42 followers and “we’re not done yet,” Debbie Virdin said.

The saga began about 10 days ago when Ms. Virdin saw Facebook friend Cheryl Thompson Young’s post about perceived Sharon Hills disrepair. She quickly messaged her former high school classmate to learn more.

“I messaged her and said ‘Oh my God, you’re kidding me,’ “ Ms. Virdin said. “She responded back with ‘I wish I was.’ “

Since Ms. Virdin hadn’t been to the cemetery in a couple months at least, she went out to investigate further.

With her family holding 30 plots on the grounds, several were covered in recently cut grass, she said.

“I couldn’t find my uncles and I kept looking and looking knowing the general area they should be in,” Ms. Virdin said.

Checking further, Ms. Virdin claims cemetery personnel had used a tractor pulling a bushog to cut high standing grass that had been neglected.

According to Ms. Virdin, an attempt to contact Sharon Hills was mostly fruitless.

“Their excuse was the rain and they don’t return calls after that,” Ms. Virdin said. “I just wanted contact information for their headquarters, not so much the cemetery itself.”

An overgrown grave site at Sharon Hills Cemetery near Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The supposed decline in maintenance is clear to many, according to Ms. Thompson Young.

“Everybody notices it, it’s just gotten worse and worse,” she said.

With her father born on the property in 1918 long before it was a cemetery, Ms. Virdin has a lifelong interest in the area. Her family was one of the first to buy a plot when it became a cemetery in 1958, and many of her 10 other siblings also bought in.

“I’ve got family in every part of the cemetery,” Ms. Virdin said. “It’s just sad. It’s not pretty, it’s just sad.”

Final resting place

After decades of rest at Sharon Hills, Ms. Virdin feels her late family members deserve more from management.

“They’re going to have to change the way they do things,” Ms. Virdin said. “This is their final resting spot so they should be responsible and respectful.”

Cheryl Thompson-Young, left, and Debbie Virdin look at a tree that they believe should be taken down at Sharon Hills Cemetery near Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Taking a similar tact, Ms. Thompson Young said this is not what her mother expected when she planned decades ago for a final stay at Sharon Hills.

“She had always talked about perpetual care and it’s not,” Ms. Thompson Young said. “She just didn’t want us to have to go out there and pull weeds around her site.”

A missing flower vase on a gravesite at Sharon Hills Cemetery near Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Never an attention getter she said, Ms. Thompson Young reached out to media and local elected officials for help. Last week, four or five customers met with Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Jim Hosfelt and media at Sharon Hills for a tour of what they described as “disrepair.”

The group has also reached out to state Reps. Trey Paradee, D-Cheswold, and Sean Lynn, D-Dover.

There was no other way to get the cemetery staff’s attention, she reasoned.

“I don’t know how to put pressure on them unless we go public,” Ms. Thompson Young said.

Ms. Virdin hopes that legislators can bring about more oversight on cemetery management in general. She described the state’s monitoring as having “no teeth.”

In March 2016, the Delaware Department of Justice ordered Sharon Hills to restore missing urns for two dozen customers after cemetery employees were arrested on related charges. The employees pled not guilty and the DOJ halted prosecution with the understanding that the urns would be replaced. Concerned plot holders and family members flocked to the cemetery when the Delaware State Police announced the case in July 2015.

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