Cemetery’s future still in the air

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

RICHMOND – No new cemetery plots will be sold at Carver Memorial Cemetery Park – at least not for the next three months.

The state Cemetery Board on Wednesday voted unanimously to delay a decision on whether to grant owner Abraham Applewhite a new cemetery operating license.

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The board wanted additional information regarding complaints filed against the cemetery and to resolve several legal questions, said Mary C. Broz, the board’s spokeswoman. A decision will be handed down within the next 90 days.

Applewhite’s appeal comes just two weeks after the board revoked the license of the troubled East Washington Street cemetery, which has historically served the city’s black community. Irene Applewhite, the cemetery’s former compliance officer, and Abraham Applewhite Jr., former vice president, voluntarily surrendered the cemetery’s license on Oct. 27.

&uot;I apologize to the board, the citizens of Suffolk and my father,&uot; Applewhite said. &uot;…I am asking this board to renew this license for 12 months.&uot;

If it is renewed, Applewhite said, he planned to borrow money to pave the cemetery, pay the city $36,000 in back real estate taxes and hire telemarketers to sell plots.

Cemetery inspector Herb Nichols could visit any time, Applewhite said. He also offered to send monthly status reports to the board.

In light of the board’s decision, Applewhite said, only current plot owners will be buried in Carver Cemetery for the next three months. An outside company will be used to dig those graves, he said.

Applewhite said the business’ problems began in 1997, when he spent 18 months in New York at mortuary school and other family members operated the cemetery business.

&uot;That’s when the problems started,&uot; Applewhite said. &uot;…No family members are working here now, not my wife or my sons.&uot;

Applewhite said he is no longer in the funeral home business, but would be able to focus his time and attention on cemetery operations. After the meeting, he refused to say why he was no longer involved in the funeral home.

&uot;I will be out there everyday,&uot; he said. &uot;I never worked a day for anyone other than my father. I’ve got two sons who don’t feel like that.&uot;

Although his immediate family may not be working there, Applewhite has named his uncle, Cyrus M. Johnson, a retired shipyard worker and his uncle, as the new corporation’s compliance officer.

Although Applewhite is not listed on the license application, he told board members that he is the sole stockholder in the company, according to board testimony.

Johnson, in response to board members’ questions, said that he was not fully aware of his responsibilities as compliance officer. He said he and Applewhite have not discussed compensation and specific duties thus far. In the two weeks that he’s been working at the cemetery, Johnson has mowed the grass and helped gravediggers.

Johnson also said he just wants to help a family member, that he’s not in it for the money.

&uot;My nephew has a problem and I’m interested in helping him. The people who had been helping him seemed to be doing what they can to overthrow him.

&uot;…Right now, I’m leaving the monetary decision to Abraham.

&uot;I don’t want to give him the idea I’m trying to take over. I’m complying with whatever he asks me to do. I will always look to him as my supervisor.&uot;