For the first time in several months, the lights were on Monday morning in the office at Fairmount Cemetery.

The legion of volunteers who have been hauling their mowers and trimmers to the hills above Rockingham Road in Davenport now can count on the old cemetery getting the attention it needs.

The Iowa Insurance Division, which administers state cemetery laws, last week was named in Iowa District Court in Polk County as the receiver of the long-suffering cemetery. After fall-outs among board members and claims of mismanagement over a several-year span, Fairmount's grounds were in near ruin.

The Insurance Division now has signed a four-month contract with the superintendent of Pine Hill Cemetery, also in Davenport, to maintain and manage Fairmount.

Carvel Morgan has decades of experience in cemetery work, and he said he already has determined that records appear to be in order. One complaint and concern among former board members and family members of those buried at Fairmount was that nearly a year's worth of burial records were missing.

"We found records in the office, and we haven't found that anything appears to be missing," Morgan said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we're not finding anything wrong.

"People can start contacting us. We're answering the phone."

In addition to plans to repair Fairmount's crematorium — once a primary moneymaker — Morgan said he will keep regular office hours and has a crew lined up to begin regular mowing of the grounds.

"We're starting with a 120-day contract to get things figured out, then hopefully continue on," he said.

In announcing the receivership plans, Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen said the state was pleased that Pine Hill staff responded to their call for help.

“We want to thank Pine Hill Cemetery Association for stepping forward to assist us during the receivership,” Ommen said. “We know that cemeteries struggling with upkeep can cause anxiety for surviving families. We will be working to help get the cemetery’s operations back to normal as quickly as possible.”

Julia Sird was among the surviving family members who were upset about the conditions at Fairmount. Her mother-in-law's grave was nearly unrecognizable over Mother's Day and Memorial Day weekends, because the grass and weeds at Fairmount were knee-high in areas.

"Pine Hill Cemetery is always pretty well-kept, so hopefully taking on this very large cemetery is not too much for his crew to handle," she said Monday after hearing the news. "We sure don't want either cemetery to become an issue again, because the person is overwhelmed with both cemeteries."

But Morgan offered assurances, saying that he and his wife have worked at Pine Hill for 30 years. Plus, Insurance Division personnel are available to assist with any issues, he said.

Pine Hill Cemetery is to be paid $4,687.50 per week "as full compensation for all services rendered by Manager," according to his agreement with the Insurance Division. Morgan is to submit expenses for reimbursement.

His wife, Barbara Morgan, is office manager (among other things) at Pine Hill, and she pointed out the compensation for their work at Fairmount is to cover all routine expenses.

"It's for everything — all the mowing, all the hours spent getting everything back together," she said. "It's the labor for the crews and for the office.

"It's a sad thing that happened at Fairmount, but we're confident it'll be back the way it should be. Our board has a great track record."

The Insurance Division, as the receiver, has the authority to spend revenues and interest from Fairmount trust funds, "... in light of the cemetery's current urgent financial needs," according to state documents.

Meanwhile, Morgan said he is grateful for the volunteers who repeatedly turned out to mow about 100 acres of Fairmount grounds. If they had not managed the seasonal weeds and grass, his crew would be facing a much greater challenge, he said.

"There are areas that need to be cleaned up, of course, but they did a really good job," he said.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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