Sitting at the edge of Benton City is one of many rural cemeteries in the area that faces an unknown future. While the Benton City Cemetery is considered an active cemetery with available burial plots and room for expansion, it faces financial problems as do many rural cemeteries. With interest rates at historical lows, it’s perpetual care fund is being slowly depleted as the expenses to maintain the cemetery far outweigh the income received.
For years burial plots were sold with no perpetual care cost included. Instead, family members paid a perpetual care fee of $2 or $3 per year. Within a number of years those immediate family members passed and that income ceased. Today the cost of a burial plot includes a perpetual care fee. However, with the current low rate of interest on invested funds, expenses to maintain the cemetery are far greater than the income received on the invested funds.
"The Benton City Cemetery and the Unity Cemetery located two miles South of Benton City are two of many in Audrain County that depend on donations for upkeep. The Benton City Cemetery is still actively used but it still is dependent on donations to survive," stated Lyndal Barker, a longtime member of the board of trustees of the Benton City Cemetery.
Barker said in Unity Cemetery, the oldest stone shows 1828 and the latest shows 1973 and therefore most all of the descendants are gone. They have only enough funds to last another two years and then there will be no money for upkeep.
Many rural cemeteries are church supported. But many of those are full or limited in space resulting in limited or no future income. And as rural churches with affiliated cemeteries close, those cemeteries will also face an unknown future.
Patty Meyers, Audrain County Treasurer currently manages funds for seven rural cemeteries. "Most are church cemeteries where the church has disbanded or the members are elderly and they turn over their funds for my office to manage," she stated. She basically pays the bills for the mowing of the cemeteries until the funds are depleted.
As the population became more urban and families more disbursed, the old family cemeteries that dotted the countryside disappeared. And today, many of the rural cemeteries face that same fate. Monetary gifts for the upkeep of these area rural cemeteries is very much needed.
Donations for the Benton City Cemetery can be sent to Sherry Stuckenschneider, 31678 Audrain Road 716, Martinsburg, Mo 65264, while donations for Unity may be sent to the Audrain County Treasurer. Bear Creek, Berea, Laddonia, Lockridge, New Providence and Pleasant Grove are also in need of donations.
The present generation is using cremation more all the time, and therefore the interest in supporting a cemetery is going down.