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Southern Memorial Gardens under new ownership


Staff writer

After years of hardship and dismay, Southern Memorial Gardens cemetery finally has new owners who are trying to return the cemetery to its former status.

On Oct. 1, Southern Memorial Gardens in Dunkirk once again was open for business under new owner Southern Memorial Association Inc., a private, family-owned corporation.

“We’ve been trying very hard in getting the cemetery back,” John Yeatman, one of the co-owners of Southern Memorial Association, said Monday. Since opening three weeks ago, there have been three burials, he said.

The major undertaking of getting the cemetery back to its former state began in July, Yeatman said.

“It was very disheartening to say the least” to see the grounds in the state they were in when Yeatman and co-owner Guy Saxton visited the property in June. The offices were in dire need of repair. Air conditioning units and other equipment had been stolen, and windows were broken and smashed, he said. “It’s kind of like walking into a ransacked house.”

Since July, Yeatman said the offices were completely gutted and renovated; the mausoleum roof was repaired; traces of mold, mildew and water were remediated; new doors and locks were put in place; equipment and computers were installed.

In 2009, Larry Deffenbaugh, then-owner of Southern Memorial Gardens, was convicted of defrauding 551 people out of funeral and memorial items. Deffenbaugh embezzled funds that were supposed to be used for specific items, including caskets, by using cheaper merchandise and keeping the extra money, according to previous reports. Court records show the alleged thefts and embezzlement occurred between 2005 and 2006 before the business was sold to Daniel and George Martin, owners of Badtec Inc., in 2005.

In July 2011, Badtec Inc., the most recent owner of the 30-acre cemetery, was banned from continuing services at the cemetery after violating a cease and desist order issued by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Office of Cemetery Oversight, which accused the Martins of operating without a valid license because they were reportedly struggling financially.

The cemetery was foreclosed about the same time, and the Martins filed for bankruptcy in December 2011.

On June 13, Southern Memorial Association Inc. entered into an asset purchase agreement with the cemetery’s trustee for the purchase of the personal and real property of Southern Memorial Gardens. On July 25, the bankruptcy court granted the purchase agreement and signed an order permitting the sale.

The cemetery was purchased by Southern Memorial Association Inc. on Sept. 19, and the permit to operate the cemetery was issued Oct. 1, according to the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight.

After receiving the operating permit, Yeatman said the corporation received thousands of files the Office of Cemetery Oversight had removed from the cemetery, including plot and burial contracts. The files weren’t “in a consistent manner” and needed to be reorganized and re-filed, he said.

“They’ve been working very diligent on that for about a month and a half,” Yeatman said of the two new administrators for the cemetery. He said administrators from a few of the corporation’s six other cemeteries have been helping with the files, as well.

Yeatman said through the entire process, one of the things he has been impressed with is “the number of people that came out and that are vested in the cemetery.”

Moving forward, Yeatman said the goal is “just to continue working away.”

For plot, contract and other questions, or to schedule an appointment with one of the cemetery’s counselors, call the cemetery office at 410-257-4300.