Mark Davis, general manager of Dayton Memorial Park in Butler Twp., describes the cemetery’s tornado damage to Anne Petit, superintendent for the Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing at the Ohio Department of Commerce. The state division awarded the cemetery with one of the first grants in a new program. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Tornado-damaged cemetery awarded first-of-its-kind grant

A Butler Twp. cemetery damaged by a Memorial Day tornado provided what was called an “inspiring” application to be among the first in Ohio to receive money under a new state grant program.

The tornado that hit Dayton Memorial Park toppled 200 headstones, damaged trees and left the cemetery strewn with debris.

“They wrote an incredibly inspiring proposal for the first round of grant funds that we’ve ever had,” said Anne Petit, superintendent for the Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing at the Ohio Department of Commerce that administers the new Cemetery Grant Fund.

WALKING THE PATH OF THE STORM: ‘Just hoping that we were going to live through it’

Awarded to the cemetery on Thursday, $5,000 will go toward replacing about 100 trees lost in the EF2 tornado that hit the upper portion of Montgomery County, said Mark Davis, general manager of Dayton Memorial Park, 8135 N. Dixie Drive.

“They were all sizes and shapes,” Davis said. “When a tornado hits, you don’t know what’s going to happen as far as damage.”

Davis said the cemetery lost a centerpiece Douglas fir he hopes to replace. Most of trees were maples.

The cemetery is required to match the state grant, and a $25,000 Small Business Association disaster loan brings to $35,000 the cemetery will use to replace trees in affected areas, Davis said.

MORE: ‘Disaster after the disaster:’ Fighting insurance over tornado damage

Cemetery workers have already replaced more than 40 trees, but planting of the remainder will be contracted out to a service that will water them and provide a first-year guarantee, Davis said.

Petit said cemeteries are having a harder time stretching dollars.

The division is awarding $75,357 to 65 cemeteries in 34 counties throughout Ohio through the new program. The state received more than $300,000 in requests for the available funding.

“So many of our cemeteries … have met with difficult financial times to meet their obligations in the perpetual maintenance and upkeep of their cemeteries,” Petit said. “Decades ago, they were making great amounts in interest from their investments. It wasn’t so difficult. But now they’re struggling to have the funds to actually, in some cases, even mow or fix potholes in their driveways.”

TORNADO’S PATH: This couple’s home was the first leveled by monster EF4

Other area cemeteries received grants.

Willowview Cemetery in Montgomery County was awarded $1,000 to repair monuments due to tornado damage. Hillgrove Cemetery, also in Montgomery County, is getting $998 for tree planting. Highland Cemetery in Miami County received $3,500 for mausoleum repairs.

Petit said the Butler Twp. cemetery’s grant proposal also highlighted the “hundreds of volunteers who turned out after the tornadoes to help remove debris and set the stones that could be lifted by hand,” she said.

“They brought together the community,” she said.

Davis said about 500 volunteers arrived to help clean up and repair the 217 acres.

“It would have taken my crew weeks to get that done,” he said. “I want to thank the community for that.”

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