SIKESTON - The list of area residents coming forward to report problems with a local cemetery is growing but it appears to be more than just a local issue.
Following a local report on problems with the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Sikeston experienced by a Sikeston family, it soon became apparent they were not the only ones in this area dealing with this.
An ever-growing list of the cemetery's patrons have since contacted the Standard Democrat by phone and e-mail to tell how they were asked to pay in advance for tombstones and date-of-death markers and told the markers would be in place within 8 to 12 weeks.
Instead, years pass while the company's local representatives pass the buck to corporate officials who then dodge disgruntled customers' phone calls.
Others have contacted the Standard Democrat with stories of how they were eventually able to resolve their problems with the cemetery but only after a struggle that made an already-difficult time in their lives even harder.
"My brother died May 2004 and it took my older sister, Christine Smith, until this past May 2005 to get the headstone on his grave," wrote Shiela Gee in a June 13 e-mail.
"Memorial companies should be helping these families through a hard time in their life and not putting them through more grief," wrote Don Seymore of Seymore Memorials in Dexter who has been working with Sikeston funeral homes to help some of the people caught up in these difficulties.
Mike Graham and Associates, the holding company based in Houston, Texas, that owns the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Sikeston, appears to be up to its neck in dissatisfied customers not only from this area but in several states.
A May 26 article by Joel Mathis of The Lawrence Journal-World of Lawrence, Kan., provides a timelime of problems experienced at the Mike Graham and Associates-owned Memorial Park Cemetery there which begins with complaints about poor maintenance at the cemetery and includes allegations of everything from failure to provide markers to burials in the wrong places.
Mathis notes in this timeline that on May 17 the city shut off the cemetery's water due to an unpaid bill.
The article also cites reports of problems with cemeteries owned by Mike Graham and Associates in Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas.
"We have no comment whatsoever," said a company spokesperson from the Texas office who refused to identify herself when contacted Monday.
Randal Davis, a supervisor for the company located in North Little Rock, Ark., was again unreachable by phone and had a full voicemail box.
Randy Dockins, who has been waiting on date-of-death plaques for two relatives, one who died in December 2004 and another who died in October 2002, said one of his relatives was able to get results by contacting authorities but personally he has received nothing except unkept promises.
"I honestly wonder if they're ever going to do it. I wonder if someone isn't embezzling them," Dockins said. "Somebody's getting the money and the job's not getting done."
Dolores Bee said she would like to see someone assemble a list "of all the people that are having these problems so maybe we can do something.
"They haven't put my brother's plaque down," Bee said. "It's been over a year and it's kind of bothering my mom - she's 90. She paid $1,400 - a little over that."
Bee said she contacted the Missouri Department of Economic Development's Office of Endowed Care who advised her they are gathering names to start an investigation.
She advised visiting the Missouri Division of Professional Registration Web site at pr.mo.gov and clicking the "Regulated Professions" link.
On that page, click on the "Cemeteries, Endowed Care" link from the list of regulated professions. On the page that comes up there is a link for a complaint form which she urged those having problems with the cemetery to fill out.
"She said when we get enough (complaints) she'll send an investigator down here," Bee said.
Bee said Carolyn Jacobi has a Web site "Eternal Justice, Inc." that also might be helpful for those having problems with the Garden of Memories Cemetery.
On the Net: www.LJWorld.com
Eternal Justice, Inc.: http://www.eternaljustice.bizland.com/