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Veteran Says 'Deplorable' Conditions at Elm Lawn Cemetery Must be Addressed

Veterans' areas of Elm Lawn are described as a disgrace to those buried there; cemetery owner says they're working on it.

Vietnam veteran Ken Lepla says he is talking, but the staff at Elm Lawn Cemetery isn’t listening.

“I’ve gone to them over and over again about the deplorable conditions of the veterans' sections (of the cemetery),” Lepla said. “But they just don’t care.”

Potholes in the roads, sunken graves and overgrown headstones are a disgrace to those buried there and their families, Lepla said, adding that his repeated requests for action by Elm Lawn personnel have been met with hostility.

“They’ve thrown me out of the office more than once,” he said. “Even though I have a niece and an uncle buried there.”

But Lepla kept on speaking to others about what he considers disgraceful conditions at Elm Lawn, located at 401 E. Lake St. in Elmhurst. 

He talked to a former Elm Lawn employee. He talked to 1st Ward Alderman Paula Pezza.

“I just want to see something done about this,” he said.

Lepla was born and raised in Elmhurst. His family home on Emroy Avenue overlooks Elm Lawn Cemetery. He said over the years, he and his neighbors have watched the decline in its care.  

“They just don’t take care of the graves anymore,” Lepla said. “The roads are bad, the headstones are sunken, and in the garden section, water covers the graves much of the time.” 

The reason for the standing water, he said, is that there is not sufficient underground drainage at Elm Lawn. 

Elm Lawn owner Scott Troost said he is aware of the water problem.

“There are stormwater lines that run underground,” Troost said. “And so the potential to nick one of them is there when we dig.”

 Troost said plans are being made to rectify the problem at Elm Lawn, and a similar problem already has been addressed at their neighboring property, Arlington Cemetery.

“We already tore up the road and laid drain tile in Arlington,” Troost said.

But Lepla is convinced the problem is deeper, and that Elm Lawn is guilty of negligence.

“The veterans' sections are the worst, but every section of Elm Lawn has sunken graves and overgrown headstones,” Lepla said.

That has to do with the early days of the cemetery, Troost said. Elm Lawn was established in 1905.

“The older graves have a tendency to pitch, because back then, the bodies were not placed in concrete containers," Troost said. "The [grave] markers, themselves, are the private property of the owners and therefore their responsibility. We will try to help if we can, particularly if a family member contacts us.”

But, contacting Troost is not an easy task. 

Anyone seeking to speak to him must first either fax or mail a written request.

Troost has no private voicemail and offers no other means to communicate with him except through his receptionist, who emphatically reinforces the written request policy.

"Mr. Troost owns eight properties and is only here once a week,” she told Elmhurst Patch.

But what about the graves of veterans who no longer have family to care for them?

“Memorial Day is typically a big day for us,” Troost said. “But with all the rain we can’t run the lawn mowers, and even with 14 groundsmen on staff, it is a time-intensive job to work around the upright headstones and the flat ones.” 

But Troost said he is trying.

He met recently with a city inspector to address complaints from neighbors adjacent to Elm Lawn.

“They wanted us to clean up the pond, so we did,” Troost said. “But of course with the weather, it filled back up again with debris.”

He said he has ordered filler for the potholes so the roads will be smoother by Memorial Day.

“Not fixed, but better,” Troost said.

But Lepla is skeptical. He said that last fall, there was a grave so shallow he could see the vault.

“I raised a big stink about it, and they did go and throw some dirt on it,” Lepla said.

Lepla contends that the Troost family doesn’t care about Elm Lawn and Arlington cemeteries because they’ve been trying to sell them for years.

“Not so,” Troost said. “It’s always been a family business. When my dad got sick with cancer, I moved back home to take care of things.” 

The senior Troost, Robert, died of pancreatic cancer in 2010, and Scott Troost left his job in theater on the east coast to move back to Elmhurst and oversee the business.

“I’m still learning,” Troost said. “But my uncle’s helping me, and eventually we’ll get there.”  

But according to a 2007 article by ABC 7 News investigative reporter Chuck Goudie, cemetery neglect has been a longstanding Troost family problem:

“A spokesman for the Illinois comptroller who regulates private cemeteries says their records show several complaints against Elm Lawn for poor maintenance and upkeep since the year 2000,” Goudie reported.

In the article, Robert Troost offered the same explanation his son did for the collapsing graves: “It's a very old section. Apparently, burials were made in wood boxes, and they collapse over the years. If they were concrete, (which) today all the cemeteries require, it never would have happened.”

Scott Troost said, without outer containers the markers are also more susceptible to sinking.

"In an effort to stabilize and maintain the veterans' section, the cemetery has taken the initiative to regrade it multiple times,” he said.

The cemetery's responsibilities also include edging around markers and raising them, which according to Scott Troost is a significant task. There are tens of thousands of markers in the cemetery. Troost said his sister walked the grounds recently and noted monuments that needed to be straightened or leveled. The list has been delivered to a foreman for immediate attention.

“It is extremely important to us to honor those that have served our country and are buried here," Troost said. "We will continue to work to ensure that their final resting place and markers are properly cared for and maintained.” 

Concerned resident May 06, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Try going to their monument store on Roosevelt in Hillside to locate Mr. Troost. When one is purchasing a grave marker there is usually a Troost sighting to make the sale. There are no excuses Mr. Troost for the disgraceful conditions and disrespect for our ancestors buried in your cemetaries.
Bob Roberts May 06, 2011 at 04:24 PM
My God, when will the cemetery issues slow down in Illinois? There has been a steady stream of negative press relative to cemeteries out of Illinois now, for over two years. Tow things that stand out to me in this article: 1. The memorials belong to the families so it is their responsibility? I've been in this business a long time, and never heard that one. So now, you invite the families to come out and level memorials? Hope you have the best of the best liability insurance, in case one of them gets injured while working "in your cemetery." 2. Standing water in a garden is most simply rectified by putting perforated drain pipes in the surrounding edges of the affected garden. The size of that pipe dictates how far it will draw from the center, and is a relatively inexensive fix for a common problem in that area of the country. As far as the older graves are concerned, the lack of outer burial containers in the past does present challenges in a cemetery. You can backfill graves that have sunken many times, before the sinking stops. It's always amazed me how much dirt it takes to replace in a casket cave-in situation. The article addresses a long standing problem at this cemetery, based on the comments from the state. It would probably benefit this owner to move quickly before the state is forced to get involved more than they are already. http://www.cemops.com
Joe May 06, 2011 at 07:04 PM
From your videos it looks like a very nice, well-maintained cemetery. The trees and shrubbery look healthy and maintained and the grass looks freshly-mowed. It seems far from neglected, based on what you show.
Lucy Wilson May 06, 2011 at 07:33 PM
I have relatives buried at Elm Lawn and have never seen a problem with the condition of the grounds. The office people have always been very kind to me, too. I visit relatives at a couple different cemeteries around Chicagoland and there are headstones that are slightly overgrown with leaves collecting on top of them like you show at every one of them. That isn't cemetery neglect. It's nature doing its thing. You know what I do? I push the leaves aside when I see them. I honestly can't believe this man was "thrown out" of the office by the ladies who work there. His language makes me question him. After complaining about a grave he says "they did go and throw some dirt on it" which makes me think he doesn't want to admit that they have responded to his complaints in the past. This article seems kind of silly. Thank goodness for video and photos to tell the truth. The cemetery looks good. Let's be honest.
Debbie Simler-Goff May 06, 2011 at 09:47 PM
Thanks Joe, for offering a balanced view. As the article indicates there are two opinions represented here, that of the veteran and of the owner. Comments from readers such as yourself helps to enhance the conversation. :)
Debbie Simler-Goff May 06, 2011 at 09:48 PM
Thanks Bob for the informative post. As with anything, knowledge is the best pathway to understanding.
Debbie Simler-Goff May 06, 2011 at 09:51 PM
Thanks Lucy for your comments. The pooling of experiences is what makes Patch such a great forum for discussing newsworthy issues. As was noted in the article, Elm Lawn has come under scrutiny from other sources since 2000. I'm glad your experience with the staff was a good one.
frank troost May 06, 2011 at 09:59 PM
The Peter Troost Monument Co. , whose main office is located in Hillside Il., has no ownership interest in Elmlawn, or any other cemetery. Scott Troost is the nephew of Frank Troost, one of the monument companies owners. When Robert Troost first bought Elmlawn about twelve years ago, its condition was deplorable. None of the roads were paved and the maintance building had no roof. It is in far better condition today and is in equal or better condition than the other older cemeteries in the area. In my opinion, the roads in the cemetery are in better condition than most of the ones in Elmhurst I have traveled on recently.
stephanie May 07, 2011 at 12:57 AM
My Mother is buried her and its in very sad shape. Especially the farther back you go.
Erika May 07, 2011 at 01:30 AM
I hope they can come to some sort of agreement to get this porblem fixed. People have family and friends burried there, I'm sure it breaks thier hearts to see the condition this cemetary is getting.
NancyC May 07, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Perhaps you could all volunteer to do some of the lighter work? As a Catholic I am proud to say that the Catholic cemeteries are particularly well cared for and maintained. Perhaps another good reason to convert to the Catholic faith and join a parish near you!
Debbie Simler-Goff May 07, 2011 at 08:16 PM
I think volunteers helping is a great idea! Anyone interested?
stephanie May 07, 2011 at 08:29 PM
I think that is a great idea. I know my family would be interested in coming and helping out. Maybe Memorial day?
Debbie Simler-Goff May 07, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Hey Stephanie what a great suggestion! Do you think a work day on Memorial Day would be kosher? (People working on the grounds while others are contemplative/honoring? ) If enough people express interest I'd be happy to talk to Mr. Troost about maybe having a community clean up day or something. What say you Patch readers?
dennis December 12, 2011 at 04:03 AM
On December 9th 2011 I traveled from Texas to Illonois and stopped at Elm Lawn to payrespects to my father something I have not done in over 18 years. My brother and I were pleased with the first impression of the cemetery, however; when we walked into section 17 and had to search to find our dads marker which only a small section of it was visable, we became very upset. We dug out the marker although it is still over three inches below surface level, neighboring plot markers are the same and I am sure many are totally covered over. As we were leaving I was going to stop in the office to complain but they managed to lockup and leave prior 5:00pm. My father and the other vets do not deserve to be covered over and forgotten!! Mr troots if you read these post I would love to hear your lame excuse for your neglect of section 17. Dennis ( bigfootgrampa@aol.com)
Ann Johnson December 20, 2012 at 05:03 AM
I have been there many times and always thought it was a dump and now I realize I was not alone. Shame on the Troost family! I hope people read this first!!

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