Mausoleum restoration project revitalizes Brookside Cemetery gem

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An outpouring of donations helped to expand the restoration project at Brookside Cementery, which Phil Karner (above) initiated. Photo by Jim Lincoln.

Restoration work on a mausoleum built in 1916 at Brookside Cemetery was recently completed with several companies working on various projects.

The granite building with a white Italian marble interior and columns that had to have been turned on a large lathe sits behind the cemetery office and maintenance building. Cemetery Superintendent Dan Righter said that the structure was partially hidden for years.

“It had some pine trees growing up against it and we later took those out,” said Righter. “Some people said, ‘I never realized that was here,’ after the trees and shrubbery were cleared from the granite face of the building.”

John Damelio and Phil Karner, proprietors of The August Company, were two of those people.

“My grandparents were buried in front of it but the mausoleum was overgrown so we hadn’t really noticed it,” said Karner. After attending the funeral of a friend, the building happened to be open and Damelio and Karner ventured inside.

“We walked through and it was so pretty, and John said, ‘Someday I’d like to be buried here instead of cremated,’” Karner recalls. “Five months later, he was.”
A window inside the mausoleum was opaque instead of the intricate stained glass style of the other windows. Righter said it had been that way since the 1940s. Karner thought of restoring that window as he designated memorial donations be made toward the project in lieu of flowers after Damelio passed away in 2007.

“It started with the window replacement, but there was such an outpouring of donations in John’s memory from the community that we were able to do even more,” said Karner. By May of 2008, Karner had established the Brookside Cemetery Mausoleum Beautification fund in Damelio’s memory. “That’s what really got the ball rolling,” he said. Local artist Pat Deere was commissioned to do the stained glass, and she was able to match the other windows. The stained glass also depicts upside down torches, which Righter said symbolize an extinguished life.

Funding has been made available from the Cemetery Perpetual Care fund along with the memorial funds, and the bulk of the renovation project took place this summer. A new door and lock system was installed in the spring, and earlier this summer, a project to restore the ceiling with a synthetic material that would help protect the building against moisture started, along with painting and restoring brass gates inside. Work was done by Pollick Plastering, Inc., of Temperance, Lenco Painting of Adrian, and Krieghoff-Lenawee, Specialite and Stafford Building Products.

“There was a black paint overspray on the white marble, and that was the toughest thing,” said Righter. It was tedious and time consuming work and even though they were paid to do it, they basically donated time and effort that didn’t come close.”

The brass doors next to the crypts had to be disassembled, stripped, polished, coated, and put back together. There were also ornate ceiling grates to deal with.

The ceiling repair cost approximately $13,320 but Righter said the new process should be protective with its synthetic material. Stripping the interior and refurbishing the brass cost approximately $3,220, and the total cost for the new doors was $7,276.

Righter said what Karner and Damelio did really got the ball rolling and the funds helped restore the window, funded the addition of an indoor columbarium, some granite benches, lighting work, and indoor and outdoor landscaping.
Karner estimates that close to $25,000 may have been raised thus far toward the various projects.

“It looks really nice, and they’ve done a good job,” Karner said.

Donations may still be made toward the fund, and Righter said that one of the items still needed for the mausoleum is a lift that costs approximately $10,000. Crews are still using the old lift from the early 1900s, and most of the remaining 21 crypts are in the top tier. The task of raising caskets is risky and difficult.

Righter is grateful for all the assistance, from the memorial fund to the city, for bringing the mausoleum back into good condition.

“I don’t think anybody in our generation will ever see it the way it originally was, but this is as close as it will be,” he said. “I would like to also thank Tecumseh City Council and Kevin Welch for having the fortitude to get this job done, because it was quite an undertaking, especially in our current economy.”




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