SIKESTON -- Since purchasing three area cemeteries, which were abandoned by their former owner, last December, new owners Dale and Teresa Birk are working to earn the trust of the community.
"I think the biggest thing is that we have a genuine long-term commitment to it," said Teresa Birk. "We're not a corporation coming in here trying to make money on it -- just enough to pay for itself."
Birk Enterprises purchased three cemeteries formerly owned by Mike Graham and Associates: Memorial Park and Garden of Memories cemeteries in Sikeston and Forest Hill Memorial Gardens in Morley.
Dale Birk was one of many people hurt when the cemeteries were abandoned. A self-employed farmer, Birk had also been a gravedigger for almost 20 years and was owed a great deal of money.
"That was about the only way to recoup our loss -- to buy it," said Teresa Birk. And so they negotiated for two and a half years.
"It was definitely a commitment and a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into it. We personally invested a lot -- not just financially, but a heartfelt commitment" she said. "Then you just become personally attached to it, because you saw what was happening to those families that were paying for the merchandise and not getting it."
Birk said she and her husband are making good on the outstanding consumer liabilities. For instance, there are several people who paid for a marker or memorial never received, some of which date back to 2005. They urged, however, that the infractions did not happen overnight, and also cannot all be remedied immediately.
Items have been ordered and are being put in place as they arrive, said Birk.
The Birks have a big job to overcome hard feelings in the community left by the former owner. "A lot of people are just coming by to see who we are and see if we are who we say we are," said Birk. "But we're local and we're a fairly young couple, so we're not going anywhere."
To help address some questions of community members, two "Open Saturdays" have been hosted. Also, an open house is scheduled for March 9, with more details to come.
Dale Birk is "very hands-on," said his wife. Teresa owns and operates a Cape Girardeau company, but still comes to the office once or twice a week.
They have hired three full-time employees. Deborah Speed works as office manger, and had previously worked with Sikeston Memorial Park since 1998. Also employed are Woodrow Speed as grounds manager, who worked with Memorial Park since 2003, and Roscoe Mhoon, groundskeeper. "They have the knowledge and experience," Birk said of the Speeds. "They've both been there for several years."
A few new options are available for customers. Pre-need plots and memorials are again sold, after sales ceased in early 2005, said Birk.
"We sell the memorials and markers again," she continued, noting that there are various types. "Bronze on granite, upright granite ... it can be simplistic or very elaborate."
Another new thing when it comes to the bronze memorials is that photos can now be cast into the bronze.
Another service the Birks have added is a silk floral placement program. "If they want flowers all year long, they can pick the dates and we'll put them out," said Birk. The in-the-vase floral arrangements are available in the office.
The owners are also looking to the future. Birk said the Memorial Day festivities previously held will be restored. And now, staff are conducting a feasibility study for a cremation garden and a mausoleum.
The office for the three cemeteries is located at 501 S. Kingshighway. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, the phone number is 472-