KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — After renewed attention on the state of disrepair at Eternal Hills Memorial Park in Klamath Falls, a state Representative and the head of the Oregon Mortuary & Cemetery Board issued a response — but it may come as cold comfort for people concerned with current problems at the neglected cemetery.
“This frustrating circumstance with Eternal Hills Funeral Home was caused by an owner who failed in their responsibilities to the families they served with a blatant disregard to the state regulatory agencies," said Rep. E. Werner Reschke (R-Klamath Falls) in a statement.
Some grave sites are crumbling and caving in. Most of the grass is dead and brown. Headstones and memorial casks have repeatedly been robbed or vandalized. For many, Eternal Hills cemetery in Klamath Falls is nothing short of a travesty.— NewsWatch 12 (@KDRV) April 26, 2019
Rep. Reschke pointed to two bills that he supported in 2018 and 2019, both of which were signed into law. The most recent bill strengthened the state's options for intervening in a case of mismanagement like Eternal Hills prior to 2016, and increases oversight on similar endowment care cemeteries. The 2018 bill allowed for burials to continue at the cemetery.
Neither bill, however, provide a means for addressing the current deterioration at Eternal Hills.
“Rep. Reschke has taken this matter very seriously and is working collaboratively with our agency to address these concerns,” said Chad Dresselhaus, Executive Director at the Oregon Mortuary & Cemetery Board (OMCB).
Along with Rep. Reschke's statement, OMCB provided a timeline of events for legal action related to Eternal Hills, then responded to the recent concerns.
According to the OMCB, there has not been any recent vandalism at Eternal Hills, although there may have been recent social media posts of photos from "months, if not years ago."
"This has led some members of the community to mistakenly believe that the photos are new," OMCB said.
"The mausoleum appears to have been cleaned, and although it has suffered from water damage, there isn't any trash or broken glass, which is an improvement from conditions present about 3 months ago," the agency continued.
Addressing photos that showed a caved-in plot, OMCB said that a licensee had visited the site and had been able to confirm that no one was buried at the location.
"Generally, it is important to consider that, although it is disturbing to see a photo of a plot that has caved-in, there is most likely a reasonable explanation. There are many possible reasons including, but not limited to, manufacturing defect, the cemetery’s tractor driving over a plot, a lack of cemetery maintenance, the elements (rain & snow) causing the lid to deteriorate, etc."
For those concerned about proper maintenance at Eternal Hills, regardless of the reasons or circumstances of the disrepair, there don't appear to be any new answers or clarity. According to OMCB, there remains a trust fund in place which garners a percentage of the purchase price for each cemetery plot sold.
"The interest earned on the trusted funds can be used to help pay for the cost of maintenance at the cemetery, although the payout is often not sufficient to cover all of the expenses, serves to help pay costs for maintaining the grounds," the agency said.
According to OMCB, the previous owners of Eternal Hills lost their cemetery licenses in 2016, and "were no longer authorized to manage or control the cemetery." Regardless, OMCB said that officials with the state Division of Financial Regulation agreed with trustee Candace Amborn released some of those funds to the previous owner in August of 2017 — ostensibly for reimbursement of maintenance done on the property.
OMCB did not mention any subsequent requests for funds from the previous owner for maintenance at Eternal Hills. In fact, the primary problem appears to be that the "previous owner" is still the current owner of the property — cemetery license or no cemetery license. Although Amborn now controls the business, the property has not changed hands pending the outcome of a bankruptcy case.
At present, the fate of Eternal Hills remains hung up in those protracted legal proceedings, with OMCB saying that the previous owner was now the subject of several lawsuits within the original bankruptcy case.
“I’m looking forward to the trustee having proper control of the assets and working with OMCB to find a new owner with a bright future for Eternal Hills. Our community and extended families deserve public access to a peaceful, safe and beautiful place to remember their loved ones,” said Rep. Reschke.
The full statement from OMCB may be read below.