Monday, September 17, 2001

Visitors try to clear graves


Caretaker faces trial, accused of taking upkeep money

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Relatives of people buried in Northside's Wesleyan Cemetery are taking matters into their own hands as they await the trial of cemetery president Robert Merkle.

        For Steve Pelcha, that means cutting the grass at the grave sites of his grandparents and two uncles.

        For Helen Fornash, a member of the group Friends of Wesleyan, it means searching for money to help pay for grounds upkeep as well as a possible new administrator.

        Mr. Merkle, the cemetery's beleaguered president, is accused of bilking thousands of dollars from an endowment for the cemetery's upkeep. He was charged with three counts of theft and one count of failure to maintain an endowment care fund.

        Mr. Merkle is accused of using the nearly $100,000 in the endowment to pay credit card bills, veterinary bills and private-school tuition for his grandchildren; he also is accused spending it on a satellite TV system and to eat at restaurants, authorities said.

        “It's sinful the things that man has allowed to go on, downright sinful,” said Ms. Fornash.

        Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge David P. Davis has set the trial for Nov. 8.

        Over the Labor Day weekend, Mr. Pelcha visited the cemetery at 4003 Colerain Ave.He discovered the graves of his relatives were overgrown with high grass and littered with debris. Some of the headstones had fallen over.

        The 42-year-old Mount Washington resident began clearing the graves so his mother wouldn't be upset.

        “I wasn't aware it was in this state,” he said.

        Although the cemetery is considered a private, nonprofit entity, Mr. Pelcha has asked the city of Cincinnati to help him by providing Dumpsters and mowers. City officials say Mr. Pelcha has contacted them but nothing has been donated yet.

        Ms. Fornash has six relatives buried at the cemetery, including her parents and a niece.

        Her sister was buried there in 1999, despite Ms. Fornash's reservations.

        “She kept saying she wanted to be near Mommy and Daddy and her daughter,” Ms. Fornash said, adding that her sister's grave has sunken and is now like a pool. “I can't find my mother's grave or my father's grave.”

        For her sister's funeral, family members had to use weed cutters to clear a space for people to stand by the graveside.

       



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- Visitors try to clear graves