The prayer garden at the west side of Tucumcari Memorial Park Cemetery was busy Wednesday morning with five visitors seeking out the gravestones of loved ones between 11 a.m. and noon. Betty Cooper-Coslett, a lifelong Quay County resident whose first husband is buried in the garden, said she was unhappy with what she saw there.
"(This is) the saddest thing I've seen happen in Tucumcari in a long time. We've always been proud of our cemetery, but at this point in time it's a shame. This is an embarrassment. When people come to our town to look up graves of their loved ones, they can't even find them out here, so I'm ashamed to know that they've let things go to this point," Cooper-Coslett said.
Though much of the central and eastern portions of the cemetery were freshly mowed with green grass and weeds cut, the western and northern sections were not as well-maintained Wednesday.
Nancy and Allen Roe of Bloomfield searched the prayer garden, which only contains flat, ground-level headstones, for Nancy's grandmother's marker Wednesday. After about 10 minutes of searching, they discovered the marker, which was completely buried in grass, dirt and weeds. They said they visit the grave yearly. A majority of markers in the area were partially or completely obscured by the overgrowth Wednesday.
City manager Bobbye Rose said cemetery employees are currently working to clean up the park, and employees were weed-eating portions of the park Wednesday. Rose said the city employs only two full-time employees to maintain the cemetery, making upkeep difficult.
Tucumcari resident Lynn Hudson was clearing the overgrowth from her sister's headstone flat in the prayer garden Wednesday morning. Besides expressing dissatisfaction with the park's condition, she said the cemetery's rules for grave decorations are too restrictive.
Current city ordinances disallow "placing potted flowers, plants, summer wreaths or baskets on lots and graves ... except on Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Memorial Day, Armistice Day and Christmas Day." The rules allow management to grant special decoration requests for other days, and all items "shall be removed within 10 days from placing." The cemetery also reserves the right to remove decorations for any reason.
"There are a lot of days that are important to the lives of the individuals. June 1 is (Hudson's son) Mike's birthday. You better believe I'll have flowers out there," Hudson said. "Feb. 5 is the day he died, then I'll have flowers out there then. If there were other milestones in his life, then I would have flowers for them, and that's different for everybody."
The better-kept sections of the cemetery featured gravestones decorated with flowers, arches and other items Wednesday. Bobbye Rose said cemetery workers began removing flowers and decorations until she asked them to stop two weeks ago. She said she asked them to leave the disallowed decorations on the plots until residents could address the city commission with their concerns about the cemetery's rules.
"I think that's where some confusion has came, because I'm not sure that we were abiding by our ordinance at one time, but we're trying to do that now with all of our ordinances," Rose said.
Cooper-Coslett, Hudson, and a handful of other citizens addressed the city commission at its city hall meeting Thursday to express their concern about the maintenance and decoration of the park. Commissioners will vote to finalize an ordinance establishing a cemetery board to include members of the community. The board is intended to revise current cemetery ordinances. Rose said she hopes to have the board established with members appointed by the end of the year.
Board members must be citizens of Tucumcari. Persons interested in serving on the board can contact city hall at 461-3451.