for the Colchester Sun

Colchester Park and Recreation took over maintenance of the town’s six cemeteries two years ago and is now considering alternate forms of burial.

The town is considering allowing columbaria, or structures designed to hold cremated remains, and memorial gardens with benches where people can sit and reflect on their loved ones.

Colchester cemetery sexton Wanda Morin, also the town’s assistant clerk, said there haven’t been any official requests yet, but she’s aware of a growing interest in these forms of interment.

The discussion is the latest change to town cemeteries, which were overseen by the late Joyce Sweeney for four decades. Morin, Sweeney’s daughter, is carrying on her mother’s tradition while the Colchester Cemetery Advisory Committee provides assistance.

The town is in charge of mowing, trimming and doing other maintenance work at each of the cemeteries, as well as working with the advisory committee regarding capital projects.

The cemetery rules and regulations were revised last winter. A 12-foot buffer in front of stones was implemented to make mowing easier, and visitors are now allowed to leave plastic flowers over the winter.

Now that the department has figured out a schedule to ensure the cemeteries get sufficient time and manpower, parks and rec director Glen Cuttitta believes people are pleased with the results. In particular, the town has gotten a lot of positive feedback regarding tree cutting and re-sodding at the Mallets Bay Cemetery on West Lakeshore Drive.

Morin noted the new regulations increase lot prices but also allow for these new forms of burial. The most likely location for a memorial garden is the Munson Cemetery, which recently expanded thanks to an extra acre adjacent to the VNA Respite House donated by Bobby and Holly Miller.

“It seems like the perfect place,” Morin said, noting there’s only been one burial at Munson in the last three years, but people have purchased plots.

“It’s a very old cemetery,” Morin continued, “but it’s been brought to the forefront because it’s near the McClure-Miller Respite House and has a new fence.”

There has also been talk about columbaria or memorial gardens at the Fort Ethan Allen Cemetery because there is room for expansion there as well. Morin noted many people don’t realize the Fort cemetery is not restricted to veterans.

The Colchester Historical Society is trying to raise awareness about the town’s war dead and recently did a talk about Civil War veterans buried in town.

There is no official tally of buried veterans, but the town is interested in doing a survey as well as an official map of Munson Cemetery, which boasts gravestones dating back to the War of 1812.

Morin wishes she had more time to devote to her sexton duties. She is particularly busy in May when she starts scheduling burials for those who died over the winter.

“We try to work on each of the cemeteries,” she said, “but you have to pick and choose because there aren’t a lot of funds.”

Morin realizes not everyone would be comfortable doing her job but because her mother served for four decades, she enjoys the work.

“I like to do this,” she said, noting that although the sexton deals with death, it gives comfort to the living.