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A quiet place of serenity

Posted: Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Sexton Dan Billet shows the location of a granite columbarium under construction in the Community Cremation Garden at First Lutheran Cemetery in Brookings. The columbrarium will have 48 niches; each niche is a 12-inch cube for holding an urn containing cremated remains. In time, a total of four columbaria will be constructed.

• Cremation garden coming to Brookings

In putting their loved ones to rest, most people choose a traditional funeral service with a traditional burial in a cemetery plot.

It’s the time-honored way.

But times change.

Now, more and more families are opting for cremation. All Christian denominations allow it, and after the cremation is completed, the survivors retain the ashes of the deceased. The ashes can be kept at home, buried, scattered, or placed in a columbarium, an above–ground structure in a cemetery built expressly for keeping cremated remains.

Until now, Brookings-area residents seeking a columbarium for interment, however, had to go elsewhere – Sioux Falls was the nearest location. The public will soon have access to a columbarium here in Brookings: in the Community Cremation Garden at First Lutheran Cemetery.

Dan Billet, sexton for First Lutheran and Greenwood cemeteries in Brookings, explained how the now-under-construction cremation garden came to be.

He said cremation has been "quite popular on the East and West coasts for quite some time,” due to chiefly to space limitations.

Looking at Brookings, Billet said, "We found that there was a real need for it out here, too. Many families were losing someone, and they were cremated and the ashes were simply taken home.”

The cinerary urns might wind up on the mantel, in a closet, or even the attic.

"Eventually, that gets to be a problem. In time, where do those ashes go? This gives another alternative for placement of cremated human remains."

Initially the project was brought forward by the church's cemetery committee as a First Lutheran Cremation Garden.

"I suggested to them that if it's available for non-Lutherans,” Billet said, “maybe we should be naming it 'Community Cremation Garden.' It will have niches available for any denomination."

The garden will be fully landscaped, and the initial plan shows four columbaria. The structures are located on a hardscaped central walkway, near a large religious statue.

"When we're all said and done with the first two (columbaria), there will be 96 (niches). As those fill in, there will be another two units with another 96."

Billet said space in the first units may be purchased now. Some urns could be placed as soon as May 18, with landscaping being completed by the end of June. When the first 96 spaces are near being filled, construction of the two additional units would begin.

No more eternity

in Sioux Falls

One of the benefits of cremation is its saving of space in cemeteries; ironically, that's also one of cremation's drawbacks when a columbarium is used.

Billet explained that each niche in the cremation garden is a 12-inch cube. "We have to be more specific on the urn size, … unlike an in-ground burial."

A plus-factor, however, is the cost.

He added, "When one figures it out from a dollars and sense standpoint, there actually is a savings involved by using the niche versus an in-ground burial. And by watching the urn size, we can get up to two in a niche."

Billet, who owns and operates Dakota Memorials and Cemetery Services, is pleased that the cremation garden can offer, as its brochure says, "Serenity … Natural Beauty … Affordability, … Cremation memorialization in a unique setting of nature's splendor."

All in Brookings.

"In my involvement in the monument business, a few years back I would have people coming in inquiring if there is any columbarium space available in Brookings,” Billet said.

"I'd have to tell them, ‘No there isn't’; really, the closest one is in Sioux Falls. When somebody has lived in these parts all their life, I hate to send them to Sioux Falls to spend eternity."

For additional information about costs and what the cremation garden offers, contact Billet at 692-2445.

Contact John Kubal at jkubal@brookingsregister.com.

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