Galena Cemetery is a beautiful, tranquil place.
Nestled along the banks of Little Walnut Creek, the cemetery serves as a historical record for Galena dating back to even before the village was officially established in 1809. A brief perusal of the headstones and markers shows burials dating back to the late 1700s.
However, since early this year, the cemetery has been a point of contention between the village and Berkshire Township. Citing a section of the Ohio Revised Code that prevents townships from owning and operating cemeteries that reside within the boundaries of other municipalities, Berkshire Township officials have relinquished ownership.
In response, village leaders filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in Delaware County Common Pleas Court, seeking a ruling on which governmental body is responsible for the cemetery. Both sides are now waiting for a decision from the court.
Two burials have been performed at Galena Cemetery since the township relinquished its ownership. The most recent grave site near the front of the cemetery, which is located on North Walnut Street, still had loose dirt in front of the head stone this week. An information sign at the main entrance to the cemetery has had all references to Berkshire Township covered over with white paint.
Meanwhile, the issue of maintaining the cemetery has come to the forefront and some village residents have taken the matter into their own hands and pocketbooks.
Charlie Chandler, a former Galena village police chief, said he began mowing the cemetery in late August after being told by Galena fiscal officer Marty Mazzie that the township had stopped.
“I was going over there three and four days a week cutting grass,” said Chandler, who has lived in Galena for 53 years. “I said, you know, I’m gonna cut if I die here. It shows respect. My wife’s over there. My mom and dad’s over there. My son’s over there. My niece is over there. And I’ll be there. But I’m a veteran, and I did it out of respect for the other veterans that are buried over there. It’s out of respect for those type of people that fought and gave us our rights.”
Chandler, who has purchased 12 grave sites in the cemetery, said at least five veterans of the American Revolution and many other local veterans of other wars have found their final resting place in Galena Cemetery.
Jeff Stokes, a village resident for the past nine years and neighbor of Chandler, said he noticed Chandler on his mower at the cemetery and was among a group of village residents who started lending a hand.
“It made me feel good,” said Stokes. “I felt good about cutting grass of the people that were laid in there, and going by all the graves and seeing dates, I just had a warm feeling about doing it, and others did, too.”
According to six village residents who met with The Gazette on Thursday at Galena United Methodist Church, there have been two organized community clean-up days at the cemetery since the township stopped maintaining it. Residents who have donated their time to help out include Carol and Mike Hamilton, Pam Hamilton, Diane Hucle, Tom Paul and Larry Patterson, among others.
While the sense of pride in their community is evident among residents, there is also anger and disappointment regarding the legal dispute over the cemetery. Most of that negative emotion is directed toward Berkshire Township officials.
“My whole feeling on this is why was Berkshire Township allowed to stop taking care of it before it was settled?” queried Jane Jackson, who at age 77 is a lifelong resident of Galena and owns four plots in the cemetery. “I thought that was really dirty politics, if you’ll excuse me.”
Village residents who spoke with The Gazette say they believe the ongoing controversy with the township is political in nature, and could be related to a failed attempt earlier this year to merge the village with the township, as well as a plan to separate the village from the township and some village residents’ opposition to the creation of a Joint Economic Development District (JEDD), which passed in the village by 15 votes in the May election.
“They’re not being a good neighbor,” said Heather Adams, who has lived in Galena for 38 years and owns four plots. “There’s a lot politics that are really deep. They need control and they don’t have it. There’s something there, but I don’t know it all.”
Stokes, who owns two plots, said he believes the township should provide refunds to those who have purchased plots, but are not deceased yet.
“Give me the money back. You can have the grave back, I’ll figure what I want to do with it later,” he said. “Everybody should get their money back that didn’t get a burial through Berkshire Township.”
Village residents Karen Debolt and Dixie Rice were among those who met with The Gazette. Debolt, who has lived in Galena for 54 years, owns four plots in the cemetery. Rice, a village resident for 65 years, owns seven plots.
The most recent activity in the legal proceeding occurred Oct. 22 when the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, which is representing Berkshire Township, filed a brief in support of a motion to dismiss that was filed on behalf of the township on Oct. 2. Attorneys from the law firm of Frost, Brown, Todd LLC, which is representing Galena, submitted a memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss on Oct. 15.
Judge David Gormley said he generally tries to issue decisions within 60 days of a final brief or response to a motion being filed.
Andrew Carter can be reached at 740-413-0902 and on Twitter @AndrewCarterDG.