The Modern Memorial Movement

By: Mariah Gregory
Monday, October 16, 2023

Take a ten-mile trek north of the Motor City and discover one of the largest memorial parks in Michigan, Resurrection Cemetery. As one of six memorial properties operated by The Mt. Elliott Cemetery Association, it is part of a long history of careful development and earnest stewardship. Local families have entrusted Resurrection Cemetery to safeguard their lost loved ones since 1955. At that time, traditional in-ground burial and mausoleum interment options were enough to satisfy patronage. Almost seventy years later, cremation rates have skyrocketed and ushered in the demand for final disposition alternatives.

Understanding Influences Environmental concerns, rising burial costs, and weakened religious prohibitions against cremation are top of mind for many dipping a toe in the pre-planning waters. These factors, combined with current cremation rates and a more transient population, are reshaping cemetery landscapes across the nation. In addition, baby boomers reaching retirement age are paving the way for a more personalized form of dying. Data from the United States Census Bureau indicates that all baby boomers will be 65 or older by 2030. While the shared characteristics of generational labels are not an exact science, there are many commonalities in how baby boomers view death. In short, rather than a period of mourning, they are opting for end-of-life celebrations – infused with unique elements of their personality and experiences. This quest for personalization is making cremation an increasingly popular choice.

Rethinking Land Use Resurrection Cemetery reframed this cultural shift as an opportunity rather than a problem. They proactively set out to meet the new tradition of cremation, conserve land, and increase their capacity by introducing columbaria to their landscape.

According to the Cremation & Burial Report released in 2022 by NFDA (National Funeral Directors Association), the national cremation rate is currently hovering around 60%. NFDA projects the rate to climb to nearly 80% by 2040.

However, many cemetery operators are struggling to challenge the status quo and sticking with the set-it-and-forget-it method of operation. Acre by acre, burial plots are selling at a slowed pace. For a cemetery that offers in-ground and mausoleum interment exclusively, this revenue is often the primary source of income for perpetual care and land management costs. On the other hand, cemeteries facing land scarcity are on the verge of becoming obsolete with limited options for additional funding.

Establishing progressive memorial solutions, such as columbaria, on existing land has too many benefits to ignore. It can expand profit margins to cover rising maintenance costs. It can sustain cemetery livelihood by revitalizing underused spaces. Finally, it can carry these historical places of remembrance into the modern age by expanding memorial options to appeal to a wide array of tastes in the community. All of this is made possible through the sale of multiple cremation niches in the space where only a few in-ground burials would be possible.

In 2015, the national cremation rate surpassed the casketed burial rate for the first time in U.S. history. Since then, Resurrection Cemetery promptly began laying plans to better serve their cremation clients. The Modern Memorial Movement According to the Cremation & Burial Report released in 2022 by NFDA (National Funeral Directors Association), the national cremation rate is currently hovering around 60%. NFDA projects the rate to climb to nearly 80% by 2040.

Meeting the Need Resurrection’s latest endeavor to respond to the growing preference for cremation is dubbed the Mausoleum of the Saints Cremation Garden. A unique and serene place of remembrance beautifully sited on the southeast corner of the property.

Tim Burrows, the Director of Resurrection Cemetery, played a key role in the planning and implementation of a venture to create an array of cremation memorialization options for Resurrection’s clientele. In Burrow’s words “…the main catalyst for this project was seeing how well received our first cremation garden was in the community. In 2017, we opened the Prince of Peace Cremation Garden which provided roughly 150 cremation memorials and 350 cremation niches. The success of this garden prompted us to evaluate where our next memorial space would bloom. Once we defined a space, we were off and running.”

The journey began with an architectural rendering commissioned by Michael Chilcote, General Manager & COO of the Mt. Elliott Cemetery Association. Chilcote stated that “…we wanted to serve the desire for personalization in memorialization, offer additional inventory without over-saturation, and preserve the peaceful tranquility of the space adjoining our existing mausoleum.”

Mekus Tanager, an internationally recognized planning and design firm, rendered a memorial garden concept with an emphasis on beautiful aesthetics and meaningful functionality. At first, the concept only included a Pre-Assembled OssuariumÒ, a decision inspired by the memorial they installed at Mount Elliot Cemetery in 2019. However, as planning continued, Chilcote noted “…the concept grew a lot from the original thought…” and they decided to add two radiused wall columbaria and an additional straight columbarium wall. A later design evolution produced a statue feature of the Holy Family atop the OssuariumÒ. Inspired Artisans, a fine art studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was commissioned to craft the statue. For Chilcote, it was important to “interweave the contemporary style from the existing mausoleum into the new garden” making for a seamless transition from indoor to outdoor spaces.

Once the concept was completed, Eickhof Columbaria, a columbarium manufacturer based in Crookston, Minnesota, joined the project team. When interviewed about their selection process Chilcote shared that Eickhof is “…a leader in cremation products and their reputation through the years speaks volumes.” As one of the first companies to solely focus on columbaria “…their designs are not just cookie-cutter,” Chilcote continued, “…they produce elegant, curved columbaria that speak softly. The technology integrated into the hardware behind the scenes was also important to us from an operational standpoint.”

The Eickhof Columbaria team meticulously drafted specified construction drawings for the columbarium walls and the OssuariumÒ at the center of the memorial space. Then, inside their Fabrication Facility, the build began. The Pre-Assembled York Ossuarium came together quickly, followed by two gracefully curved walls and a stately straight wall. Niche fronts were finished in Lac Du Bonnet Granite and attached to the niche cabinet using Eickhof’s patented concealed hardware system. The capstone, base, and trim throughout were finished in warm Mahogany granite. Both stones were thoughtfully sourced from North American quarries. Base numerals, a new feature from Eickhof, were also carved under each column of niches to improve wayfinding for both cemetery operators and cemetery visitors.

In September of 2022, the Mausoleum of the Saints Cremation Garden embraced lush landscaping, marking the completion of Resurrection’s newest expansion. As outlined in the concept by Mekus Tanager, the environment included “beautifully landscaped garden beds” with “meandering walkways for guests, a variety of cremation estate inventory, benches to rest and reflect, as well as columbaria tucked between the mature pine trees.” Many factors were taken into consideration before selecting foliage and new varieties of plantings to enrich the memorial grounds. While preserving many of the existing trees, Resurrection also added vegetation that offered straightforward maintenance and longevity. Not to mention, curtail mischievous wildlife and withstand the changing seasons. In the end, a harmonious balance was created between old and new.

Turning the Page Today, Resurrection Cemetery is well prepared to capture the at-need, pre-need, and post-need cremation markets. Good niche sales have been evident, in both the OssuariumÒ and curved walls since the installation. “The sales certainly reflect how well this new option has been received in the community,” Burrow explained. He went on to mention “that the space gives families flexibility, which fulfilled one of our goals from the outset.”

This venture created more than 1,750 urn spaces on a previously empty section of land. As a part of the variety of memorial options at Resurrection, the Cremation Garden is introduced to families every day. All in all, the Mausoleum of the Saints has been carried forward into the new age of cremation memorialization with niche and ossuary options available at a variety of price points. In turn, Resurrection boosted its relevancy to a growing clientele geared toward personalized cremation options. The formal dedication of this sacred space took place on August 5, 2023, in Clinton Township, Michigan.

Mariah Gregory is a Graphic Designer with Eickhof Columbaria - a company whose sole passion is manufacturing the highest quality cremation memorials on the market. Gregory specializes in expressing ideas clearly through striking visuals and refined typography. She joined the Eickhof Columbaria team in 2018 and brings experience in graphic design, photography, and copywriting.

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