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CBS 58 Investigates: Cemetery refuses to move misplaced headstone

SOUTH MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A cemetery is supposed to be a peaceful resting place, where people can come and remember the loved ones they’ve lost, but for one family a misplaced headstone is making it almost too painful to visit.

In June, as Arland Essig’s battle with cancer neared the end, his daughter Terri Pawlarczyk, says he had one thing on his mind: his final resting place

“On his deathbed, he said promise me you will get this rectified,” Pawlarczyk said.  

Arland knew he would be buried next to Della, his wife of 65 years. The problem, though, is the couple’s headstone was  placed in 2015, when Della died, and it’s in the wrong spot.

“We noticed it right away, it wasn’t placed, it wasn’t centered,” Pawlarczyk said.

The headstone is directly in front of Arland’s grave, leaving Della’s unmarked.

“When we go to visit, it’s heartbreaking because my mother has no marking whatsoever,” Pawlarczyk said. “It’s like when someone goes to visit their family, they’re walking right over her.”

At first Pawlarczyk says the cemetery claimed it was in the right spot, but eventually agreed it wasn’t.

“They told me, point blank, even though it was our fault, we’re not going to do anything about it, oh well,” Pawlarczyk said.

After Arland died, Pawlarczyk, a receptionist at CBS 58 News, asked CBS 58 Investigates to look in to the matter. We reached out to the First Congregational United Church of Christ Cemetery committee. In an email, the chair of the committee said they “did decline the request” but would now “discuss this with the Board of Trustees.”

After that meeting, the board sent Pawlarczyk’s attorney and CBS 58 Investigates a letter, which says in part the committee “is not responsible for opening and closing graves or placing foundations and monuments “ and the family should talk to the monument company.

Pawlarczyk says initially, they did reach out to that company.

“They said they cannot do anything about replacing it without the cemeteries approval,” Pawlarczyk said, adding the cemetery wouldn’t approve the move.

So we called the monument company.

“The cemetery has the lead,” said Bernie Schroedl, the owner of Wenta Monuments, which made and placed the headstone. . “They know where the people are buried, we do not.  So they will stake out the property and we go in and produce for pace the monument on the grave they stake out. “

Schroedl says after CBS 58 Investigates called him, he looked a picture of the grave site and knew something was wrong.

“There’s a mistake someplace,” Schroedl said. “And once I saw the picture, I figured I’d give them a call and see what’s going on and what their side of the story is. And their side, of course, is that they don’t know anything about basically where the graves are. They’re trying to get the cemetery in line.”

During our interview Schroedl pledge to move the headstone to the right spot, adding it won’t cost the family a penny.

“It’s an honest mistake,” Schroedl said. “It’s a mistake that some volunteer made and didn’t know exactly where it was supposed to go.”

Schroedl, who previously served on the Wisconsin Cemetery Board and is set to be appointed to a second term in January, says when you make your final arrangements it’s important to communicate with the cemetery about the size of the plot. He also says you should contract with a monument company that does its own work.

“Somebody who sells the markers, who produces the markers, somebody who sets the markers, as opposed to somebody who a commissioned sales person,” Schroedl said.

Schroedl says try to work out disputes directly with cemeteries because most people in his line of work do their best to accommodate grieving families.

“It’s hard losing a spouse or parent or child and you have to do the best you can to work with them and help them,” Schroedl said.

If you have a dispute you can’t get resolved, you can file complaints with the state cemetery board.

But CBS 58 Investigates let Pawlarczyk know she won’t need to. And she says her parents will finally be able to rest in peace.

“I’m so happy,” Pawlarczyk said. “ I mean I can just see my dad looking down, being so happy. Finally, my mom, after all this time will have a headstone.”

Schroedl hopes to have the headstone moved in the next couple of weeks.

If you need to file a complaint with the state cemetery board click here.

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