The verdant green lawn surrounding centerpiece pines and row upon row of headstones is kept neatly trimmed, and little Durham Park Township Cemetery is as serene and peaceful as any spot along a country highway can be.
Saturday, about two miles north of the cemetery, the scene was anything but serene at Durham city park, where children frolicked and residents joyously celebrated at the annual community hamburger feed.
That picnic, community Christmas celebrations for children, and Durham Community Center might not exist if not for Durham Park.
Most townships that own cemeteries hire someone to mow the grass, pull weeds, and other grounds keeping. For Durham Park, that’s the point where maintenance intersects with community life.
Durham Lions Club appears to be the first group to take on cemetery maintenance and use the money for community service.
“They would mow it every year; it was a service project,” Durham Park township board treasurer Bob Unruh said. “The township would pay the Lions Club about $1,000 a year.”
As a service club, the Lions used the money for the good of the community. Events such as the hamburger feed, a pancake feed, and kids’ Christmas party became annual fixtures in the life of the community.
When it was determined the town needed a place for community events, the Lions Club made it happen in a building on Douglas St. that became Durham Community Center.
“The Lions Club acquired it, and the work was done by members, and the major funding for materials,” Unruh said. “It would not have happened if not for the Lions Club.”
The club’s good works could have unraveled when it disbanded in 2008.
“That’s one of the sad things in small communities like this,” Unruh said. “When a civic organization that had a successful activity history over its life ceases to exist, you don’t have a way of picking that up later on.”
However, Durham found a way, thanks to some committed volunteers, city council, the township board, and of course, the cemetery.
“There’s a group of us that try to keep the cemetery cleaned up and neat and trimmed and managed,” Unruh said. “We have the Durham activities fund that is primarily funded by Durham Park township money. Since the township doesn’t pay someone to take care of the cemetery, we put that $1,000 a year into that fund.”
The township took on the community center, and the city has been paying utilizes while the township board has paid for overhead, general upkeep, and insurance.
Council members recently proposed dropping utility payments as a cost-cutting measure. When the township board countered that it would have to start charging rent for council meetings and other city events that have been free, the city chose another option suggested by the township: They agreed to buy the building.
With a budget of $3,500, that was unexpected good news for the township board. If township residents object to the move, the sale would be put to a vote, but Unruh hopes people will see it makes good sense all around.
“It was probably costing us $1,000 a year to cover the overhead,” Unruh said. “We’re going to clear a good amount.”
So what will the board do with the windfall?
They’ll reinvest much of it in the cemetery that’s provided so well for the community.
Tilting markers will be reset and straightened, and an on-site directory for visitors could be created, Unruh said.