Connie Gerth and family recently bought and donated a Maple tree for Riverview Cemetery, in honor of Connie's deceased husband, Ron Gerth.
Lori McDonald, Tribune
The tree funding program at Seymour’s Riverview Cemetery that died out years ago has been revived by the new superintendent, along with the introduction of a memorial tree donation program.
“I got our memorial tree program going again when I took over as cemetery superintendent in 2016,” said Frank Cottey of Seymour. “It originally started back in the ’90s as just a tree fund where people could donate. Then once there was enough money, they would go out and plant the trees.”
Cottey said right behind the shop, there used to be a small nursery to house the trees at Riverview, but it got to the point where it was just too much to dig up, take them out and plant them, so the program ended.
“We’ve partnered with Schneider Nursery, and the way it works is the family will come talk to me to see what the options are for a tree donation,” Cottey said. “Then they will go to Schneider’s, and they’ll pick out a tree. We have certain species of trees that we will allow in the cemetery and some species we won’t.”
When the family buys the tree from Schneider Nursery, that includes the purchase of the tree and also the planting to ensure the tree is planted the right way.
“Then the family will come back to me, and the price is $150 for a small stake plaque to go in front of the tree,” Cottey said. “It is a small stake so they can be moved out as the tree grows.”
This past year, the American Legion donated two trees to be planted. Cottey said the Riverview staff appreciates when organizations donate because it helps them get involved with nonprofits and helps the trees.
Since 2016, Riverview Cemetery has lost 48 ash trees due to the emerald ash borer. So far, 28 trees have been taken down, and 20 more are scheduled to be removed.
“I decided we needed to get that program started again because we had lost a lot of our trees,” Cottey said. “The emerald ash borer is a little beetle that gets into the tree and sucks the nutrients right out.”
The emerald ash borer arrived in Steuben County in northern Indiana around 2004. In March 2017, they were found in the last of the 92 counties, Benton County, said Phil Marshall with the Vallonia State Nursery.
“They’ve been in Jackson County for probably the past 10 years and have pretty much moved through the county now,” Marshall said. “Having killed most of the ash trees, they’ve moved on, but some of the trees are still dying.”
Marshall has been a forest health specialist his entire career and up until last year held the title of state etymologist in Indiana for 10 years prior. He now works all over the state.
Cottey said as far as donations go, they are trying to stay on the smaller scale of maple trees and ornamental trees so future generations can handle taking the trees out without much cost.
“Since the memorial tree program has been reinstated, two trees were donated last year, and this year, there have been six,” he said. “So it’s gaining steam as far as people knowing, and we only advertise a couple times a year so that we don’t get too many at once.”
Riverview only needs a certain amount of trees per year so it is able to keep up with the planting and make sure the trees are doing well in their new environment.
No healthy trees are being removed, only the ones where there are safety concerns, like the ones that have died.
“We’re keeping the trees along our roadways so that when they get mature and they do grow, they will shade the drives,” Cottey said. “We’re trying to keep them a safe distance away from monuments, so that is why the actual location of the tree is determined by us.”
Connie Gerth of Seymour said her family has had many generations buried at Riverview, and the cemetery has always been well maintained and beautiful. When she saw trees dying from the emerald ash borer, she wanted to help.
“I saw the sign at the entrance about donating a tree and talked with Frank at Riverview,” she said. “Next, I went to Schneider Nursery and selected the tree I wanted to purchase and have planted close to my husband Ron Gerth’s grave.”
Gerth chose an autumn blaze maple tree, which recently was planted. She and her children, Julie Chinn and Patrick Gerth, decided on the wording for the plaque that was placed by the tree after it was planted, she said.
“The other names on the plaque, Cameron (Beach) and Jordan (Gerth), are my grandsons,” Gerth said. “We are very pleased with the opportunity to donate to Riverview and look forward to watching the tree mature through the years.”