City addresses grave concerns, cremains facilities at St. George cemeteries

A damaged gravestone at the St. George City Cemetery, St. George, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The year was 1862. Ulrich Bryner was the first person to be buried in the new St. George City Cemetery. Now, 153 years later, there are only a few plots left that have not been either used or reserved out of the 10,000 on the grounds.

The first headstone in the St. George City Cemetery belonged to Ulrich Bryner
The headstone of Ulrich Bryner, the first burial in the St. George City Cemetery, St. George, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

But what is ordinarily a clean, peaceful place of repose has in recent years been the target of complaints. Among citizen criticisms: No columbarium to inter cremains; broken and chipped headstones; and usage of unfiltered water to irrigate the grounds.

Columbaria and cremation

A columbarium is a wall or place set aside for storing cremated ashes.

“I’m upset because there are no places to bury ashes anywhere in the immediate St. George area, especially Washington City, where I live and my deceased mother lived,” Washington resident KayLynn Peterson said. “She loved Washington City and wanted to be buried here.”

Neither Washington City nor the St. George City Cemetery will be constructing columbaria.

However, the Tonaquint Cemetery will soon provide a place where residents and others can memorialize loved ones who have been cremated.

“It’s under construction,” Dick Johnson, a funeral service counselor with the Cremation Center of Southern Utah, said.

Johnson referenced an architect’s conceptual drawing of the gardens.

“They’re going to build a cremation garden. They are going to have columbariums (sic) with niches in it, and I think it will be quite nice,” he said.

The cremation garden will have small plots that will be sold for the burial of cremated remains. A rock on each plot will be customized with the name and vital details of the person buried there.

Another option will be what Johnson termed an “ossuary.” In Europe, an ossuary is a common grave for bones.

“Over here (in the United States), when you’re talking cremations, it’s a common grave for cremated remains,” Johnson said.

A family can purchase a plaque on the wall near the ossuary commemorating their deceased family member.

The crematory at the Southern Utah Cremation Center, St. George, Utah, July 22, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News
The crematory at the Southern Utah Cremation Center, St. George, Utah, July 22, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

Cremation is becoming a more popular option, Johnson said, for two main reasons: Some people choose cremation for the environmental benefits, and some choose it for the financial benefits.

On average, cremation costs are about 80 percent less than traditional burial.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not normally encourage cremation but does not have an outright ban against it. The church handbook says cremation should be a decision left to the family members and local laws and customs.

According to the church’s website, “The family of the deceased must decide whether the body should be cremated, taking into account any laws governing burial or cremation.”

Grave complaints


In a 2013 letter to the editor, a reader said, “… The damage/erosion and disintegration by the use of unfiltered Virgin River water to the headstones is of grave (no pun intended) concern to myself and many others in our community with whom I have spoken.”

“That’s not exactly true,” Jim Hohenboken, City of St. George sexton, said.

“The water we use goes up to Skyline Pond, to a couple of settling ponds up there, then the water is gravity fed back down,” Hohenboken said. “This water is used by the cemetery, the college and a few of the parks as it goes down toward the Virgin River again.”

Hohenboken said the water is not contaminated and will not damage headstones any more than water from the municipal water supply would.

The St. George City Cemetery, St. George, Utah,  June 1, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News
The St. George City Cemetery, St. George, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

The cemetery has been criticized for watering during the day. But René Fleming, St. George City energy and water resources coordinator, said the water used by the cemetery is irrigation water  a combination of raw water from the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers and reuse water from the water treatment plant. This water is not restricted in its use.


Also in the 2013 letter to the editor, the reader said, “Why does the St. George City Cemetery not receive the same quality of care and manicured maintenance as our city parks, trails, buildings, golf courses, dog park, ball parks, historical sites and the list goes on?”

The cemetery is maintained constantly, Hohenboken said.

“It takes about three days to mow,” Hohenboken said. “In between, we try to string-trim the graves, starting at one side and working our way to the other.”

The entire cemetery is mowed every week between services and burials.

However, there has been the occasional complaint that a stone may have been chipped or cracked by a riding mower.

“My cousin is also buried out there,” Nikki Watterson, of St. George, said. “My uncle has had to replace her headstone three times since she was buried in 2004.”

Watterson blames this on the mowers used to maintain the lawn.

“We try not to hit anything,” Hohenboken said.

Water erosion, sun and age probably do more damage than mowers, he said.

“I don’t put anything in the ground anymore,”  Watterson said, referring to decorations at her grandfather’s grave in the cemetery. “Everything is gone. Everything has been cut off that we took.”

An old cenotaph from the St. George City cemetery, St. George, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News
An old gravestone from the St. George City Cemetery, St. George, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

A cleanup of the cemetery is held three times a year. Temporary memorials, such as flowers, flags, signs, wreaths, solar lights and other items, are removed during these cleanups, Hohenboken said. The cleanups are announced in the media and printed in the city’s utility bills, and signs give notice at the cemetery, he said.

Another concern expressed is the dirt settling around graves.

That is inevitable, Hohenboken said, and leveling is done as needed. Sod is lifted and more dirt is added to the settled area, packed down, and then the sod replaced.


The city cemetery, like much of the surrounding area, sits on bentonite soil, commonly known as “blue clay.” Blue clay absorbs water and expands in the process. It can severely damage foundations, buildings and other structures.

There is blue clay at the city cemetery, Hohenboken said, and headstones have been displaced because of it, but it is rare.

Hohenboken said the city’s crews work hard to keep the cemeteries in good shape, so loved ones of those buried there have a peaceful place to come and remember their dead.


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  • mmsandie July 25, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    What concerns me more is the fact the special park for the handicapped should. It have used land near the cemetery, this limits people who are in coffins.. I can see the need for an area of crea til s remains.. But I am sure with the senior population in town, that tonaquit cemetery will be filled..

    • fun bag July 25, 2015 at 10:49 pm

      uh oh, sounds like ol’ Sandie been shootin’ up the meth again…

  • munchie July 25, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    Why did we have to learn what the position of the LDS church is on cremation?

    • native born new mexican July 25, 2015 at 10:59 pm

      Is possible the majority of your neighbors and people using the cemetery are LDS?? You know the answer to that. Learn how to be a good neighbor.

  • fun bag July 25, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    more whining. bring out the surplus crying towels … we gonna need ’em

  • Free Parking July 26, 2015 at 1:46 am

    Who cares what … thinks
    Ed. ellipsis – OK FP, as I said to your partner in a comment war: Oh how nice matters and careful words can persuade. Let’s be productive, here? Don’t make me work too hard 🙂

  • Free Parking July 26, 2015 at 7:20 am

    Oh you must be LDS

    • Joyce Kuzmanic July 26, 2015 at 7:30 am

      Just tempering some pejoratives, Free P – nothing to do with myself. Nice matters. Yes?

  • Free Parking July 26, 2015 at 8:06 am

    LOL. Yeah right.

  • Free Parking July 26, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Maybe if you people would quit putting in what the LDS church thinks about everything you post it would be a better environment for everybody..

    • Mike July 26, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      I don’t usually agree with Native Born New Mexican, but geez, Free Parking, it’s a simple matter of history. Like it or not, this area has an LDS history. Historically, Mormons don’t build places to store ashes because they don’t really like cremation. Maybe the article should have spelled that out for you, but I understood the meaning of that information being included.

  • fun bag July 26, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    should just do what they do in europe and dig up all the current remains and put them in a big pit. It’ll be like a brand new grave yard then 🙂

  • Free Parking July 26, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Hey Mike. Yawwwwwwwwwewwwn

  • Free Parking July 26, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    UPDATE….. Non Mormon people couldn’t care less what LDS church thinks about anything

    • Real Life July 26, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      Man you are really on one.

  • Dragonfly July 28, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    Just to clear things up about the LDS Church. My pioneer ancestors settled this area. At that time, they were ‘Mormons’. Up until just the last few decades, this area was mostly LDS (Mormons). We haven’t been told that we SHOULDN’T do cremation, but encouraged to do a full body burial, especially those who have been through the temple and received their endowments. Nowadays, a lot of people… LDS included, can’t afford a full burial and choose to do cremation because of the cost… or whatever reason.

    My mom wanted to be cremated and expressed MANY MANY times how much she loved living in Washington City… the scenery, people, weather, and so on. My complaint is that besides Washington City, there are no places at any of the cemeteries to bury ashes. I’m tired of the excuses by our elected officials, from any city, of why there are no places for ashes. And they aren’t just LDS, they are from different religions, so don’t blame it on just the LDS politicians. They are all guilty, as a whole, of ignoring the requests of the local residents. I

    I appreciate it that the Tonaquint Cemetery is building a place to bury ashes, but my mom really loved Washington City and I want to honor her wish. Wouldn’t you want to honor your loved one’s wishes?

    So again, don’t use this against the LDS Church or it’s members. And yes, this is the 21st Century and that it’s not just LDS residents, but other denominations as well… which is why ALL cemeteries should have a place for ashes to be buried or stored.

    Thank you, St. George News and Ric Wayman, for helping me to get my message heard on this matter.

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