Roseland Park: Concerns still abound regarding cemetery

By HASKEL BURNS,

Back in mid-2017, Louisiana resident Doug Nobles – along with dozens of Hattiesburg residents – brought forward concerns about Roseland Park Cemetery in Hattiesburg, in particular the lack of maintenance and upkeep at the West 7th Street cemetery.

Two and a half years later, those problems seemingly are still persisting, with many residents taking to Facebook to voice their complaints and one woman starting a petition against Roseland Park.

“I still live in Ponchatoula, La., and I usually go up twice a year, or more if can, because I have relatives buried out around Midway in Lamar County,” said Nobles, who was born and raised in Hattiesburg. “But I always go by Roseland and check on my wife’s family gravesite, and I’ll usually wind up digging weeds off of the foot markers and things like that.

“My wife and I were actually there in October, and we were looking for a (friend’s) grave. We were walking, and some of those headstones just had weeds grown all over them and you can hardly see them. It’s just a disgrace, and I don’t know what’s going to have to happen to make a change in it.”

Other issues include the duck pond at the cemetery, which is overgrown with weeds, and the state of disrepair of the former chapel/office building at the front of the property. Concerns have also been raised about standing water, the state of the mausoleum, uncut grass, and the fact that the gates remain open throughout the night.

Roseland Park was opened in 1919 by the Hulett family, who owned and operated the property for 76 years. In 1995, the Huletts sold the business to the Eaves family, who a few years later sold to the current owners, Cecil and Dale Lawrence of Dallas, Georgia.

Officials from Cecil and Dale Lawrence – along with the local team that manages the cemetery – declined to comment.

The fact that the issues are resurfacing is no surprise to Nobles, who in 2017 was angered to see that a section of the granite monument at the cemetery’s Garden of Valor – designed to honor deceased veterans – was toppled over on the ground.

“The thing about that company, the people that own it, the only thing that’s going to happen is that they’re going to give lip service when they’re pressed like we did two years ago,” Nobles said. “They’ll come out and do a few little things to make it look like they’re doing something, and then it goes right back to a terrible-looking state.

“This place used to be really beautiful and well-kept, well-maintained – it’s perpetual care, and it was always maintained until this company got ahold of it, and then it went straight down the tubes.”

Anna Moak, senior counsel and interim communications director at the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, said the office has received one recent complaint about the cemetery. Although the Secretary of State has no authority to require perpetual care cemetery owners to maintain the upkeep of the property, officials do forward any complaints they’ve received to the cemetery owner and try to work with them to resolve the issues.

The cemetery’s perpetual care fund is in good standing with the state.

Tennessee resident Jacqueline Keith, who posted several pictures of the cemetery on the “Remember When in Hattiesburg” Facebook page, started a petition against the cemetery on the change.org website. As of Friday, the petition, which can be found at https://bit.ly/37y311F, had more than 800 electronic signatures.

“(Roseland Park) has not been kept up since Lawrence Group of Dallas, Georgia took over ownership,” the petition states. “Several attempts to resolve the negligence and disrepair have been fruitless or (met) with less than mediocre results.

“The list of problems is lengthy and ridiculous. Please sign so we can appeal to state authorities who govern businesses like this.”

Several news outlets in Tennessee have previously reported Cecil Lawrence Inc. has received multiple complaints regarding cemeteries in that state. WRCB-TV in Chattanooga reported in 2015 that more than 125 complaints had been filed regarding Cecil Lawrence-owned Sunset Memorial Gardens and Hillcrest Memorial Gardens in Tennessee.

“It’s just the fact that they’re not from here, they got the cemetery, they want to make as much money as they can out of the cemetery, and they don’t care about keeping it up,” Nobles said. “They’ve proven that with the other cemetery properties they have.”