From the Ground Up

by

Published: September 30,2002

“Where will you spend eternity?”

Have you ever been driving down a rural road in the South and observed that question posted on a telephone pole or a tree? It refers to your soul of course.

But what about your body? Where will it spend eternity? How about at your alma mater?

According to an article in the July 10, 2002, edition of The Wall Street Journal, some colleges and universities around the country have begun offering final resting places for the ashes of their alumni and friends. Although cemeteries on college campuses are not new, the storage of cremated ashes is. The ashes are placed in an urn, which is then placed in a columbarium, a type of vault with niches for cremated remains. The columbarium is located in an appropriate setting on campus, usually “a garden of remembrance.” Cost for a niche ranges from $1,800 to $5,500, depending on the school and the location of the columbarium.

The potential for fund-raising may be huge. I would report on Mississippi’s institutions of higher learning, but I had neither the time nor the chutzpah to make the calls.

This is what most people would call a win-win situation. The school receives a nice financial gift and the family of the departed is secure in the knowledge that the loyal alum is where he or she wants to be.

I suspect that this is going to become a trend for quite a few reasons.

First, I think there will be a demand from alumni. One college mentioned in the above article surveyed 300 of its alumni in 1993 and found that 70% would be interested in new burial grounds. The college had a century-old cemetery that was full. It built an additional grove to the cemetery and it filled within a year. It now has four groves and is nearly sold out. Centre College in Danville, Ky., built a columbarium last year at the request of alumni. The group even paid $80,000 for construction.

Alumni loyalty is a powerful thing. It was also reported that about 50 schools now license their emblems to a casket maker who sells caskets and urns with the school emblem emblazoned thereon. Yes, the school gets a percentage.

Second, people are moving around more than in the past. The problem with people moving around is that they have little or no connection to one locale. Where someone spends the last 20 years of his or her life might be hundreds of miles from his or her earlier life. Children often move away from where they grew up. Once upon a time it was not uncommon to have family cemeteries on the property. Then came cemeteries located on the immediate church property. Next came community cemeteries. We are now at a stage in which we have commercial cemeteries, i.e., private companies being in the cemetery business.

By the way, even though some cemeteries actually deed a parcel of real estate to a buyer, the sale of cemetery lots is exempt from the provisions of the Mississippi Real Estate Brokers License Law. In other words, one does not have to have a real estate license to sell cemetery lots.

Finally, many friends and family members have a special need to have a physical place to go to remember someone. Look at how many graves of famous people have become shrines. A physical site somehow creates a kind of connection in many people’s minds.

If you don’t believe it, just pay a visit to any cemetery on a weekend and watch visitors placing flowers on a grave or simply spending time in meditation. Now imagine a family weekend on campus where the loved ones check into the alumni house, visit the columbarium, attend a tailgate party and then go cheer the football team on to victory. I know a few alums who would not have it any other way when they pass on.

Phil Hardwick’s column appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is phil@philhardwick.com.


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