Former residents displeased with Guaje Pines

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By Jennifer Garcia

When losing a relative or close friend, those left behind typically want to ensure that their loved one's gravesite is going to be taken care of as long as possible.

Some people choose perpetual care cemeteries, while others choose family plots or cemeteries where they do weeding and upkeep of that special persons grave, themselves.

In 1961 Los Alamos residents were fortunate enough to get a perpetual care cemetery, Guaje Pines, located on Range Road. Because Guaje Pines is a perpetual care cemetery, the county handles grounds keeping and grave maintenance.

In recent weeks, former Los Alamos residents Bonny and Glenn Allen visited their hometown and stopped at Guaje Pines to visit family members' graves.

Following their visit, the Allens were concerned with the state of the cemetery and wrote a letter to the editor, to be published in the Los Alamos Monitor.

When contacted about the letter, Bonny Allen stated that the cemetery is not being cared for.

“There are weeds and crab grass growing everywhere,” she said. “It looks like no one is taking care of it at all ... Last time I asked (my husband) if they could move a grave and not tell the family because I walked and walked and tried to find Tammy’s (her daughter) grave. The grass hadn't been trimmed back. There was a tiny part of her headstone that had not been covered and we finally found it.”

Allen says that while she realizes that groundskeepers can't weed whack around every headstone, she feels that the county should be doing a better job of keeping the crab grass under control and keeping the headstones free of grass and weeds.

“The worst visit was a year and a half ago. We were walking around looking for my in-laws’ and brother-in-law's graves, and there were other graves that were unidentifiable because the grass had grown over the headstones. Perpetual care is supposed to do better than that,” she said.

Allen feels that if the county can’t take care of the cemetery, then the community should take responsibility for grounds keeping and maintenance.

“There’s enough people who are physically able to care for the cemetery,” she said. “If people cared about the cemetery, they could figure out something to do. My back is bad and my husband can't get down on his knees. We’re the two least likely to try and clean graves up.”

Though the Allens were born and raised in Los Alamos, they left New Mexico in 1980 and moved to Arizona, where they still reside. They come to Guaje Pines when they get the chance to visit their families’ graves.

Community Services Department Director Stephani Johnson was perturbed at the Allens’ claims that Guaje Pines is not being taken care of.

“I took a drive over there yesterday and saw that there was some grass and vines (covering the headstones), but you could pull the grass away. No headstones were completely covered,” she said. “We take really good care of the grounds and try to keep weeds and crab grass out. It is well maintained in regard to mowing. I wish she (Bonny Allen) would have called us.”

Johnson said that parks staff member Dan Lujan is solely responsible for maintaining the cemetery, Urban Park and the golf course. “Dan takes pride (in his work) and works on weekends to do burials,” she said. “He feels bad when he hears stuff like that.”

Johnson said that the county is short staffed and relies on temporary and casual employees to supplement full-time parks employees.

She said that up until August, Lujan had a student helping him, however, temporary and casual employees can only work for six months at a time before having to take some time off before they can be rehired into temporary and casual positions.

“We’re trying to hire three people right now,” Johnson said. She also said that her department would be making a request to council to fund a few more openings for parks employees.