Family Fights City Over Cemetery Burial Plots 6-01-2010 - WNEM TV 5

Family Fights City Over Cemetery Burial Plots 6-01-2010

Imagine buying a cemetery plot for your family and then being told, years later, that some family members can't be buried there?
That's happening to a Saginaw family, and they're appealing to TV5 to ask The Tough Questions on their behalf.
When Jim Heitkamp, 81, departs this world, he said he has just one request. “I want to be buried by my wife,” said Heitkamp.
Heitkamp’s father-in-law bought eight plots at Oakwood Cemetery decades ago. Heitkamp’s wife of 53 years, Donna, passed away last October.
She had insisted on being buried next to her child who passed away at the age of 2 in the 1940s. The plan, according to Heitkamp, was for him to be buried on the other side of Donna.
But according to the family, a large oak tree that has huge roots is preventing the cemetery crews from digging a regular plot in that spot.
Heitkamp said he’s been told there’s only one other way he can be laid to rest in that plot: if he’s cremated and his remains are buried in an urn.
Heitkamp said that possibility angers the family.
“My dad needs to be by her, and he needs some peace of mind, it’s tearing him apart,” said Heitkamp’s daughter, Ellen Mook. “I’m just really disappointed that a tree is more important than a person.”
The family said they’ve offered to do whatever it takes to remove the tree, so that Heitkamp can have his final resting place next to his wife.
“We have asked the city of Saginaw to either remove the tree or allow us to remove the tree at our own expense,” said Dave Mook, Heitkamp’s son-in-law.
WNEM TV5 appealed to the city on behalf of the family. The city said it won’t remove the oak, even if the family pays for it, but the city did offer two other burial plots to Heitkamp.
His wife, Donna, would then have to be moved from her resting place next to her deceased daughter, so that plan just won’t work for the family, they said.
TV5 asked City Public Works director Tom Darnell if a person purchased plots with the expectation that they’re going to be buried in the plot, isn’t that an honest expectation?
“Yeah, I think it is,” said Darnell. “It’s an expectation you or I would have if we bought those [plots].”
Darnell went on to say that it’s an issue that he’s never had to deal with in the past 16 years on the job.
To Heitkamp, the whole situation seems ridiculous. “I shouldn’t have this problem, there’s no reason for me to have this problem,” said Heitkamp. “This is all supposed to be taken care of.”
The city does believe some type of compromise will be reached over the next few days, and TV5 will relay the outcome.
If you have something you want TV5 to investigate, let us know by e-mailing the station at
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