Duluth cemetery president offers free plots for veterans, wonders why state needs to build Jay Cooke burial ground
Tom Porter, president of Sunrise Memorial Park, says he has a better solution for officials considering building a veterans cemetery at Jay Cooke State Park. He has always offered veterans, police and firefighters free plots, and he's willing to ...
Tom Porter, president of Sunrise Memorial Park, says he has a better solution for officials considering building a veterans cemetery at Jay Cooke State Park. He has always offered veterans, police and firefighters free plots, and he's willing to do the same for veterans who would be buried at Jay Cooke.
Sunrise's cemetery in Hermantown has 64 of its 100 acres open, he said, more than the proposed 60 acres that would be developed in the park. And if veterans were buried there, there would be no need for the government to pay an estimated $8 million to establish the state-run cemetery, nor the estimated $300,000 annual operating fees.
"Who would want to go to Jay Cooke to get buried?" Porter asked. "The veterans from Minnesota should be buried in a cemetery they're from. If you're from Minneapolis, get buried in Minneapolis. If you're from Duluth, go to Duluth."
Greenwood Cemetery in Superior also offers veterans free burial plots. Other local cemeteries offer discounts to veterans.
State officials say that while an option like the one Porter is proposing is generous, it isn't viable because the state veterans cemetery needs to be separate from private enterprise.
The cemetery at Jay Cooke, 20 miles southeast of Duluth, would serve the 46,000 veterans living within 75 miles of the site. As proposed, the first phase of construction would produce 6,000 grave sites and provide about 500 interments a year. It could be open by 2010.
The government would provide the veterans buried there a grave site, headstone or marker and the opening and closing of a grave at no cost to the veteran's family. Veterans buried at private cemeteries receive a headstone or marker from the government, free of charge.
The state is applying for a federal grant under the State Cemetery Grant Program from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for the cemetery's construction. The VA could pay all the development costs of a state cemetery if approved, but the state is responsible for the site's acquisition.
That's one of the reasons the Jay Cooke site is attractive: The state already owns it, VA spokeswoman Anna Lewicki Long said. The Minnesota Legislature passed a measure approving the transfer of the land from the Department of Natural Resources to the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs if it is necessary.
"For some veterans, [burial in a veterans cemetery] is the only benefit they take," Long said. "As a country and as a state, we owe them this obligation."
Durbin Keeney, a Vietnam veteran, recently visited the North Africa American Cemetery in Tunisia and described it as "one of the most awesome experiences of my life."
"It's hard to explain, but from the moment I stepped on it I knew it was hallowed ground," said the director for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans in Duluth.
Keeney said he hasn't decided whether he'd prefer to be buried at a private cemetery or a government-run one, but said there is a great and growing need for a new veterans cemetery in the state, especially one closer to the area. The only Minnesota veterans cemetery, in Little Falls, and the state's national cemetery at Fort Snelling are filling faster as World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans enter old age, Keeney said.
Porter said his cemetery already holds the remains of about 2,000 servicemen and women. The plots are worth about $1,000 each, a cost the cemetery assumes itself, he said.
"I think I have a loyalty to all veterans and I'm very thankful to them," Porter said. "It's my way of saying 'thank you.' "