County governments seem to have lots of problems, are human remains another one?




Funeral Director Daily recently learned through this article from Public Media for Central Pennyslvania that Centre County will be building a 160-unit columbarium in Zion, Pennsylvania, to house urns that have went unclaimed.  According to the article, the columbarium will cost over $19,000 and the county has 41 cardboard urns at this time ready to place in the columbarium once it is completed.


According to the release, Commissioner Mark Higgins made this comment, “. . . the coroner’s office cremates bodies if no one has claimed them after a 30-day period and the county has not been able to locate a relative.  Some people don’t want to claim their family’s remains. Other times, there are no living relatives to contact”. 


Commissioner Higgins is also quoted as saying the following in contrast to other counties who typically spread the ashes of unclaimed cremated remains. But Centre County commissioners want to pay respect to the dead and give more time for relatives to claim the remains.  “We’re kind of going above and beyond by basically retaining these cremains until I’m assuming at some point, the urns will disintegrate. But that might take 100 years”. 


The columbarium will be built at the Zion Cemetery in Zion, Pennsylvania, where an anonymous family donated the lots on which the columbarium will be built.  It is being funded by funds from the federal “American Rescue Plan”.


Funeral Director Daily take:  This is a compassionate gesture for a county to undertake.  And, the decision is being made at the county level and not the state or federal level so at least the decision to spend this money on this project is weighed against the other county funding issues that there may be.  In my opinion, the more local decision on where to spend taxpayer dollars, the better off we are as the decision is closer to the people who benefit from such a decision.


Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

So personally I have no problem with this decision.  In general, I’m one who greatly believes in “Permanent Memorialization”.  However, if you read the article you will discover that the names of those remains in the columbarium will not be displayed.  The columbarium will simply be a “receptacle for a group of human remains” with no memorialization.  That decision somewhat feels odd to me.


Again, the county is to be commended for doing something and getting the remains out of a storage locker and into a cemetery or memorial park.  But, I go past that and look at the greater implications going forward. . . .


. . .it makes me wonder how we’ve got to this point where the thought of “permanent memorialization” of loved ones seems so unimportant.  And, from some data I’ve found it seems we are moving more and more away from that “cemetery based” permanent memorialization.


According to this 2018 article, about 44% of cremated remains are brought to a cemetery whereas, according to this 2022 survey from NFDA, only 41% are brought to the cemetery.  The data, in my opinion, also reflects the amount of consumer products now available for memorialization purposes as, according to the NFDA 2022 survey, 14% of cremated remains are now split among relatives.  I think that statistic reflects a growing knowledge of these products by the consumer as that option was not mentioned in the 2018 article.


I take no moral stand here other than to express my opinion about my preference for “Permanent Memorialization”.  I am a realist, however, and realize that is not everybody’s stance.  . . . . . which leads me to this business thought — whatever your funeral home’s stance is, the most recent data seems to say that if you are not “actively” offering individual keepsake options to the families you serve you are missing out on ancillary revenues and profits.


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