Dozens of people who have bought plots and gravestones at Restlawn Memory Gardens in Huron, say the organization isn't honoring its promises.
We started hearing about problems at Restlawn back in November and were told at the time the Attorney General's office was investigating. But since then, more people have come forward, saying Restlawn isn't honoring its promises or the wishes of their dearly departed.
"One of the things they decided is that they did want to be cremated, but they'd like to go back to Huron," Jon Wollman said.
Wollman lost his parents, longtime Huron educators, one right after the other. When his mother Dawn died in August, the family purchased a mausoleum niche for $2,700 at Restlawn.
"In retrospect there were probably some red flags going off at the time, but that's what mom and dad wanted and that's what they wanted, that's what we're going to do," Wollman said.
The red flags were the condition of the mausoleum itself and cemetery grounds.
"Rundown, dilapidated, not really taken care of," Wollman said.
When his father died in December, Jon and his wife Sharon decided they weren't comfortable with his parents spending eternity at Restlawn.
"We willingly walked away from that niche there not know what was going to happen and decided to bring them to Sioux Falls, just because each time we went back there, there was more disarray. One of the maintenance buildings had boards hanging off and every time we went there was more hanging off," Sharon Wollman said.
AK: It didn't get better?
Wollman: It did not, no it got worse.
Upon returning to the cemetery to pick up Dawn's ashes, a maintenance worker opened the niches and let Sharon take them. She stopped by the office before she left.
"She said, there is a charge for this. And I said, 'okay, how much of a charge?' And she went through several emails and she said, '$1,080.' And I was just shocked and I just turned to her and I said, 'No!' It was over one third of the price of the niche just to remove the ashes, which I had literally driven there and done myself. All they did was unscrew four phillips head screws and they let me reach right in and pull the ashes right out," Sharon said
Would we just be another statistic in his sad saga of Restlawn? Valerie Roth Roubos said on Facebook.
Valerie Roth Roubos and her sister Vicki started this website Restlawn Alliance
after their mother died in January and they began hearing about problems at the cemetery back home in Huron.
"There are literally dozens who've had issues with prepaid contracts, and also with the poor upkeep of the cemetery and people just don't seem to know where to go, or what to do," Roth Roubos said.
The sisters already had their father's cremains and hoped to return both their parents to Restlawn to plots they had paid for in 1966.
"They wanted to spare us any type of trouble, trauma, expense with their final wishes and just the opposite has happened," Roth Roubos said.
"Our parents' ashes are now in the closet of my home and this is really breaking my heart because I would like to put them in their final resting place. My grandparents are buried at Restlawn as well as a couple of aunts and uncles. It was their wish that they be buried there but we just don't feel the conditions are right," Roth Roubos said.
The Roths and the Wollmans are both waiting on a state investigation into the four dozen complaints on Restlawn and its owner, Iowa man John Bethel.
"I think this man ought to be held legally liable. He's taken people's endowed money and not spent it on the cemetery. I don't know what it costs to run a cemetery, but they took plenty of money from plenty of people. We came here and brought them into the niche here and we were just so thankful. John and Dawn are here and they're safe and they're going to be protected forever," Sharon Wollman said.
On Monday night KELOLAND News looks at South Dakota law when it comes to perpetual care and trust funds for cemeteries. And we look into Restlawn owner, John Bethel's background.
We'll introduce you to more people who say their grief has been compounded by the problems they've run into when it come to burying their loved ones at Restlawn. Plus,we ask Attorney General Marty Jackley what his office is doing about it.
Grave Disgrace Monday at ten.
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