EDITORIAL: Rep steps up for families

The York Dispatch
Suburban Memorial Gardens in Conewago Township, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It’s about time someone in authority stepped up to help families left in the lurch by the owners of Suburban Memorial Gardens in Conewago Township.

Authorities say the owners — Theodore and Arminda Martin — defrauded customers of thousands of dollars, collecting about $500,000 from at least 200 people and embezzling the money for their own use.

The two were indicted in April, but they were already in prison for theft related to two other cemeteries they owned in Ohio. Arminda Martin is serving 4½ years in prison, and Theodore Martin is serving five years in prison.

They’re awaiting trial in the Pennsylvania case.

In the meantime, families with members buried at the 3875 Bull Road cemetery haven’t been able to reach anyone affiliated with Suburban Memorial Gardens.

Wanda Murren, director of the office of communications and press for the Pennsylvania Department of State, has said the cemetery's registration expired in January 2016, meaning that the cemetery could not sell plots after that date.

She said the Real Estate Commission, which registers cemetery companies for the purpose of selling plots, does not have a record of any owner or officer currently with the cemetery.

More:Hearing scheduled for alleged victims of Suburban Memorial Gardens

More:Suburban Memorial Gardens: With owners imprisoned, families caring for cemetery

For more than a year now, volunteers have been providing upkeep at Suburban Memorial Gardens — mowing the grass, weeding and disposing of trash that was piling up.

Besides family members, the volunteers include members of the local chapter of Homeland Defenders RC, an organization that helps veterans and the community.

Chapter president Larry Julius said the organization got involved to take care of the veterans’ section of Suburban Memorial Gardens.

The volunteers have said they’ve reached out to Conewago Township officials and state lawmakers for help — perhaps by having the township to take over care and maintenance of the cemetery — but they haven’t had any luck.

That could change, perhaps, thanks to state Rep. Keith Gillespie.

The Hellam Township Republican has scheduled a policy hearing for next month to take testimony from those affected by the Suburban Memorial Gardens mess.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the Northern York County Regional Police Department, 1445 E. Canal Road. Those who want to testify can call Gillespie’s office at 717-840-4711, and his staff will help them schedule it, he said.

The lawmaker said he wants to identify the inherent problems and determine if there is anything that can be done legislatively to fix them. 

The idea is to see if he can do anything for the victims and also try to make sure something like this doesn't happen again, he said. 

Let’s hope the hearing does lead to relief for these families.

And good for Gillespie for getting the ball rolling.