Y’s men turning Kannapolis cemetery upkeep over to city
By Joanie Morris
KANNAPOLIS ó It’s a shady part of the cemetery where the men have stopped to talk, just beneath a large oak tree. Cemetery plots and grave stones and faux flowers surround them, but they don’t notice those things.
They aren’t there to mourn the loss of a loved one. They’re there to mow.
Every 10 days to two weeks for 12 years, the small group ó and getting smaller by the year ó of YMCA service club men has been meeting at the Kannapolis Cemetery to mow, trim, blow leaves and do anything else needed to keep the cemetery looking nice. During that time, they’ve raised more than $100,000 for the John R. Mott, John T. Fesperman and Henry D. Grimes Kannapolis YMCA service clubs.
Last Thursday was their last day mowing at the cemetery. The project will now be taken over by the city of Kannapolis, which has paid the men for the last few years of their service.
“Most of that money’s went back to the YMCA,” said Bob Mauldin, president of the Fesperman Y’s Men. The money has gone to sustaining campaigns, capital campaigns, YMCA Healthy Kids days and sponsorship of various YMCA athletic teams and other special events.
The groups have also contributed money to community organizations such as CVAN, a victim’s assistance group in Cabarrus County; the Salvation Army; Cooperative Christian Ministry; and the YMCA’s Empty Stocking Fund, which gives needy families heat in the winter and a nice Christmas.
In a letter to city Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mills, the men write, “Before the city of Kannapolis bought the cemetery, we worked to take the run-down and poorly maintained cemetery (landscaping) and with your purchase and leadership, we have transformed this cemetery into a place of pride and peace for the community and for the families of those buried there. We have tried to maintain the cemetery as a thoughtful family member. We have spent hundreds of volunteer hours and primarily our own money for equipment to do a good job.”
All the men agree that it has been a “win-win” situation for both the service clubs and the city. The city paid just under $10,000 a year for the men to keep the cemetery mowed and trimmed in the summer and neat in the winter.
All of the men insist that they have enjoyed the project ó which takes an average of 16 to 20 man hours each time ó but had to retire from it eventually.
“We got too old,” said Tom Hartis.
Mauldin said it’s given the groups “a chance to get together and have a good time” while doing something nice for the city. Usually, there are at least four lawn mowers at the cemetery every other week. Each mower uses an average of two gallons of gasoline to mow its section of the cemetery. On a good day, that’s about 8 gallons, plus what is used in trimmers. With gasoline at $4 a gallon, the men spend about $32-$35 per mowing, plus the expense of oil, mower tires and new blades when old ones wear out.
A representative at Dreamworks Lawn & Landscaping agreed the city got a good deal with the Y’s Men. A quick estimate from Dreamworks would be about $35 per man hour. If it took 15 man hours to mow and trim the area, that would be $525 per mowing. Doing that every 10 days would cost the city an estimated $18,000 annually to mow and trim the area.
Assistant City Manager Eddie Smith said that with the start of the new fiscal year, the city will take bids for the cemetery maintenance as it does with other maintenance projects that Parks and Recreation oversees each year.
“Although service contracts, other than those for construction and repair work, are not covered by competitive bidding laws, we will probably initiate an informal bidding process,” Smith said. That usually involves creating a description of the maintenance needed and contacting local lawn maintenance companies, including the companies the city already has contracts with, and seeking quotes.
“If city council approves next fiscal year’s budget as presented, we also have $150,000 for other cemetery need improvements, which includes the installation of a fence and pavement of the gravel driveways,” Smith added.
The mowing project originally started with former YMCA executive Roland Davey. When David Murdock first bought the mill, Davey saw an opportunity for the YMCA. The cemetery was owned by the Cannon Mills at the time and was run-down, with lots of weeds and shrubs growing over graves.
Davey talked with Murdock and got a contract for the Y’s Men to landscape and mow the cemetery as a service project, said Bobby Eagle, president of the John R. Mott Club. At the time, a young Boy Scout needed an Eagle project and worked with the men to clean the cemetery up. Then the men maintained it.
“It really looks a whole lot better than it did when we took over,” Eagle said.
When the city bought the cemetery from Murdock, the Y’s Men kept the contract. The amount has fluctuated over time, but has averaged about $9,000 per year for maintenance of the cemetery.
Now, in order to keep their dues low ó the men joked they’d have to add at least $500 to the dues to make up the difference ó the men are going to have to find a new project to raise funds.
“That’s one of our problems,” said Mauldin. “Finding new projects.”