Beech Grove, historic Muncie cemetery, to get improvements under new leadership

MUNCIE, Ind. — The city-owned resting place for the lofty and humble of Muncie has a new superintendent and an almost completely new board after action by Muncie City Council over recent months. Troy Watters, a retired operating engineer with the Muncie Sanitary District, replaced Michael Miller as superintendent at the cemetery on July 5.

Council President Jeff Robinson said the cemetery board of trustees is entirely appointed by the council, and the current city council has now appointed all but one of the seven current board members. In November the council increased the number of Beech Grove board members from five to seven. The new president of the board is Sally Jo Vasicko, professor emeritus of political science at Ball State University. Local historian Karen Vincent, who recently retired as director of special projects at Minnetrista, also has joined the board.

Bounded by the White River and Kilgore and Nichols avenues, Beech Grove’s more than 100 acres holds about 45,000 graves and mausoleums. Established in 1841, it is split nearly down the middle by railroad tracks.

All five Ball brothers, who established their glass container manufacturing business in the city in 1887 and created much growth and wealth in Muncie, are laid to rest at Beech Grove.

Last year Robinson said Beech Grove needed a board that was active and worked to build on the historic cemetery’s potential. He noted at the time that the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have hurt meeting attendance for the board.

Robinson said the cemetery is a valuable part of Muncie’s history and he and the council wanted to make sure it was being treated like the precious asset it is. In recent years there have been complaints about mowing and maintenance issues at the cemetery.

He said the new board will bring new energy to the management of the cemetery.

Repairs to the cemetery chapel, built in 1921, are being completed and an open house is planned for Sept. 10, Watters said. The chapel had been out of use for some time and the repairs cost “$40,000 right off the bat.”

Repairs are planned for a fountain near the cemetery entrance. Watters said 37 dead trees need to be taken down among the graves and 109 other trees are in need of maintenance.

“Trees are not a cheap thing,” Watters said.

He said many of the maintenance issues will have to be taken care of “a little bit at a time,” because of funding. The cemetery will be seeking grants to aid with funding challenges. Beech Grove has its own city property tax rate separate from the city’s general fund. Its annual budget runs around $150,000, according to the previous superintendent.

“I think a lot of it was not having enough help,” Watters said of maintenance problems. Beech Grove employs four full-time groundskeepers and seven part-time seasonal workers to keep the cemetery mowed and the weeds down. The cemetery has been looking to hire more help.

In dry weather the crew can keep up with the mowing but when it rains a lot, keeping up with the grass can be overwhelming, he said. “You can only do so much.”

Watters has enjoyed working with volunteers who do some mowing and cemetery upkeep. “We have people who out the goodness of their heart show up,” the cemetery superintendent said.

One man works from early in the morning until dark, Watters said, mowing and tending to the cemetery for no pay.

“They just come in,” he said of the dedicated help.

Eagle Scouts also have an ongoing project to clean the gravestones of some military veterans buried at Beech Grove. Their work is inspiring.

“Volunteers are always welcome,” Watters said.

Those interested in donating time and labor call contact the cemetery office, 765-741-1352.

Thank you: David Penticuff
From: Muncie Star Press