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Caring for the littlest angels

Foster’s Babyland to move to more permanent grave markers

-Messenger photo by Anne Blankenship
The temporary grave markers in Foster’s Babyland must be replaced often, due to damage from mowers. Foster Funeral and Cremation Center, which owns Babyland, hopes to replace the temporary markers with permanent granite markers.

WEBSTER CITY — Back in the 1930s, local funeral home owner Arch Foster purchased two acres of land which became known as Foster’s Babyland, a cemetery specifically for infants and children.

The cemetery, located within Graceland Cemetery, is owned and operated by Foster Funeral and Cremation Center. The funeral home staff handles much of the maintenance for the little cemetery and pays to have the city grounds workers mow the property.

The cemetery plots in Foster’s Babyland have always been given, free of charge, to families who needed a place to bury their little ones. That practice is continuing today, according to Amy Erickson-Keller, funeral director. The only cost assessed to families for a baby’s funeral is the opening and closing of the grave.

“This is a nice option for families who may not have a family plot,” she said.

Some of the graves date by to the mid-1930s. A number of them have stone memorial markers. But a good share of the more than 250 plots still hold a tiny metal temporary marker with the baby’s name and date of death. Erickson-Keller said the temporary markers are replaced each year, and sometimes more frequently than that as they become damaged by mowing or weather, a cost the funeral home has absorbed every year.

 — Messenger photo by Anne Blankenship
Foster’s Babyland is in the first phase of some upgrades planned over the next few years. New, permanent memorial markers, like the one above, are part of the first phase.

“Many families and friends may not understand that these temporary markers are not meant to be out there forever. Most of the time they barely make it through one year,” she said. The markers cost about $25 a piece to replace, a cost that the funeral home has been covering from the start.

In the past few years, the funeral home has been looking at making some changes — in phases — to Fosters Babyland. Down the road, they hope add a new entryway and signage. The first phase involves moving away from the temporary metal markers to installing a fitting tribute with a permanent granite marker.

“Due to rising costs of the temporary markers and the time each year put into these, we decided this would be our first phase to replace these with granite markers,” Erickson-Keller said.

Erickson-Keller said converting to the permanent markers required the funeral home to do its due diligence to locate the families of babies buried in the cemetery.

Notices went out last year letting people know that if there is a temporary marker on the grave, they would need to contact her about replacing them. She heard from nine families at that time.

A second notice was published in the Daily Freeman-Journal earlier this year, and letters were sent out to families. She said they have located many families, but others have proven to be more difficult to find. Another letter was put out at the cemetery just before Memorial Day.

She was able to find a granite supplier for the markers and for the cost of $107, including tax, families will be able to place a permanent marker on the grave of their loved one.

The cost covers the granite, engraving and shipping. The funeral home does not make money on the project, she said.

“We want to make sure family members are OK with having a permanent marker, and that they are OK with $107 marker,” she said. “Or we can give them the option of purchasing something different if they want.”

And families also have the option of placing no marker on the grave. Erickson-Keller said there are about 50 families that have chosen not to place a marker on the grave.

“That is their choice,” she said.

Erickson-Keller said they hope to have the families contacted by August.

People are already reaching out, offering to help purchase a granite marker for those families who can’t be found or who might not be able to afford purchasing a stone. Erickson-Keller said those who might be interested donating to the cause can contact her directly at Foster Funeral and Cremation Center, 832-2110.

“Every Memorial Day, we’ve gone out there to try and maintain that area. Our heart is in this to preserve the entire area and to care for those little loved ones as if they were our own,” she said.

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