Big Canoe Cemetery photo 1.

Charles Cates, president of The Big Canoe Chapel’s independent cemetery corporation,
stands by the columbarium for the internment of ashes. PHOTOS BY JIM FRANCIS

Big Canoe Chapel’s Cemetery: no longer a secret

By Bennett Whipple

The Big Canoe Chapel’s cemetery used to be one of the community’s best kept secrets, but not anymore. There is an increasing awareness of and demand for this Chapel amenity with one of three sections already taken, the other almost sold out and a new section recently opened.

The cemetery is part of the Jimmy R. Allen Memorial Park situated off Steve Tate Highway just north of the Main Gate. The Terraces amphitheatre is also part of the park.

As described on the Chapel’s website, the cemetery lies in a serene natural forest in a garden setting featuring flowers, shrubs and trees planted in harmony with the natural beauty of Big Canoe.

Big Canoe Cemetery photo 2

The cemetery’s gazebo provides a place for quiet meditation.

It includes a gazebo as a focal point gathering place surrounded by a columbarium for the interment of ashes and a memorial wall for the remembrance of residents buried in other locations such as the chapel’s founder, the Rev. Dr. Vernon S. Broyles. Meditation benches are placed throughout the park-like setting.

The natural character of the place is preserved which means no artificial flowers. Only uniform granite markers are permitted. Native plants are encouraged but must be approved and the plantings supervised.

Burial plots at a cost of $2,000, columbarium “niches” at $1,500 and memorial plaques at $500 may be bought by property owners and their immediate families.

The cemetery, dating from 1984, is registered with the State of Georgia as a church cemetery. Its operation is on a self-financing basis, with 20 percent of plot sales deposited into a perpetual care fund.

Charles Cates, president of the chapel’s independent 501c-3 non-profit cemetery corporation, met with this writer recently for a tour of the place. He was recruited a couple of years ago for the job and has taken a proprietary devotion to his responsibilities. At times with grieving loved ones, it even takes on a ministerial-like involvement. Cates or a member of his committee is available for plot selections and all interment events.

Big Canoe Cemetery photo 3

New signage recently added by the committee.

Other members of his committee are Leigh Young, treasurer, Amanda Woerheide, secretary, Bob Matthews, Janis Senkbeil, Pat Williams, Judy Anderson, Peggy Dominey, Lynn Roberts, Jack Krause, Frank Rogers, Jerry Capps and Wayne Erickson.

Working with his committee, they have undertaken a revitalization of the cemetery, cleaning out limbs and debris and adding plantings of some 50 ferns and 30 rhododendrons around the gazebo plus the installation of a booster pump for irrigation of the gazebo plantings. Chapel staff member Paul Schmidt was brought in for the irrigation project.

Also, a cemetery sign has been erected at the entrance to the roadway where additional gravel was added and two parking places created near the gazebo.

The revitalization plan also includes pressure cleaning the columbarium and replacing the gazebo flooring. It’s plenty to do for committee members with each taking assignments to oversee maintenance chores and keeping the area clean of debris.

In their work and commitment, Cates and his committee are guided by a mission statement which concludes with this Biblical instruction from 1 Kings 13:31:

“After burying him, he said to his sons, ‘When I die, bury me in the grave where the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones.’”

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