BOGUS BROOK TOWNSHIP – The south side of Wendell Hill Cemetery is a location that Tammy Olson knows well.
That’s where her son Andy is buried. She looks up at Andy’s grave site everyday on her way home from work.
“Every day I pass the cemetery,” Olson said.
On a late April drive home, Olson attempted to make the daily connection with her son. Instead, she was left shocked.
“I looked up there and his headstone was gone,” Olson said. “I didn’t take that very well.”
Olson drove into the cemetery to take a closer look.
The cemetery plot was dug up. A standing grave marker that once stood as a proud memory of her son was now buried and level with the ground. A vase that once held flowers was lying in the mud.
“I didn’t handle that well,” Olson said.
Andy Olson died unexpectedly at age 19 on Oct. 27, 2015. It took about a year for the Olson family to raise the money for his headstone, which was installed in the Fall of 2016. In February 2017 the Olson family was informed by Wendell Hill Cemetery Board Chairman Dennis Nelson that the headstone couldn’t remain because it was erected in violation of cemetery regulations requiring all graves to have ground markers. It’s a practice adopted decades ago to help in the upkeep of the cemetery, according Nelson.
Nelson also said the headstone has created a problem with other families that want above-ground monuments.
“There’s a family 30 feet away that wants one real bad,” Nelson said. “The whole situation causes a real mess. How can we let this one go, when others want one real bad?” Nelson asked.
Nelson says the cemetery regulations are clearly posted at Wendell Hill Cemetery. A visit to the cemetery reveals that regulations are posted in at least two visible locations.
Nelson says he told the Olsons last fall that he wanted the above-ground marker out by Memorial Day. In February, Nelson connected the Olsons by mail.
In a Feb. 6, 2017 letter to the Olson family, Nelson stated that he held the Olson’s monument company responsible for the misunderstanding because monument companies know that cemeteries have regulations. It’s clear that the Olson’s monument company didn’t look into the cemetery regulations, Nelson said. Regulations on posts at the cemetery state: “All markers and cornerstones must be ground level and must be staked before installation. All markers must be set by caretaker.”
Nelson states in his letter to the Olsons that he will work with the family to resolve the monument issue. “We’ll mark where to place the monument, but no overhead monuments are allowed.”
Nelson also stated that the standing monument must be removed by May 25 or the board will have it removed by another monument company.
On April 19 the Foley-based company that installed the Olson monument was at the cemetery and removed it. Nelson says he was there when the company did the work.
“He came because he felt responsible. And he was responsible,” Nelson said.
Tammy Olson also acknowledges that the company that put the stone up is the one that took it down. But Olson says she didn’t ask for the marker to be removed.
All Olson knows is that she wasn’t aware she couldn’t have an above-ground marker when it was installed last fall.
“Had I known, I wouldn’t have put one in,” she said.
She says the cemetery board should have told her of the regulations when her family bought the cemetery plot and three others in October 2015.
She says she was not contacted regarding the upright stone until four to five months after it was installed. Nelson disagrees with the time line and reiterates that he contacted the family in the fall of 2016.
Tammy Olson says she went to a cemetery board meeting last week to try to find some answers. She says she was publicly chided by Nelson. She says the way she was treated by the cemetery board the night of that meeting was out of line.
“You can’t do that to a family,” Olson said.
“We lost our son, and we were just starting to come around again,” she said.
“This has opened up all the wounds again,” she said.
Tammy Olson says she deserves an apology and wants her son’s monument restored to its original state.
“It will go back up, one way or another,” she said.
But Nelson says that’s unlikely because everyone with loved ones at the cemetery have to be treated the same.
Kim Willis, the daughter of Tammy Olson and sister of Andy Olson, says the whole situation has been unfortunate for her family.
“It’s been devastating.” she said.
“My little brother was sick for a long time and we had no answer to why he died,” she said.
“Now, even in death, there is no peace for him,” Willis said.