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Greenery arrives at last at cemetery

Cyndi Savage Rice's job got a lot easier after the sod arrived.

Before, the sales manager of the brand-new Trinity Memorial Gardens had to ask prospective buyers to use their imaginations as she led them across the bare sandy soil and past the not-quite-finished granite statuary.

"It was a real challenge," Rice said. "You have to be able to paint people pictures" of what the cemetery would look like when it's finished.

Sales at the cemetery began in January, but sod wasn't laid until about a month ago because of delays in getting a well permit. When the first person was buried in the cemetery on a drizzly March day, sod was brought in and laid in a 20- by 20-foot square around the grave site so mourners would have a place to stand.

"Everything else was mud," Rice said.

Now green grass carpets the cemetery on State Road 54 and the statues that serve as focal points for different sections of the 40-acre cemetery are complete.

"It's so much easier to sell now that we have grass," Rice said. "It was a real challenge. But now, today, I feel wonderful about it."

Soon there will be about 350 more trees on the property to go with the grass.

"When we get trees in here I am going to feel like I am living in heaven," Rice said.

Despite the grass delay, plots for about 100 people have been sold and 13 people already have been buried there, Rice said.

Rice wasn't sure what to expect when she became sales manager and counselor for the new cemetery in October. She had 23 years of cemetery sales experience, but it was all with existing cemeteries. She never had to market a brand-new one.

"It seems like you would go into a cemetery that would have problems and then solve the problems," Rice said. "It was always a great challenge like that."

But at Trinity Memorial Gardens the only problem she expected to face in marketing the new cemetery was its newness.

How do you make people believe that a recent cow pasture would make a perfect resting place?

"I had in my mind originally that I was going to have a big challenge to market a new cemetery," she said, ". . . most cemeteries, it's something that has always been there and always will be. I wasn't sure whether marketing it as a new cemetery was good. I just tried to say "Here it is.'

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But that didn't become the hurdle she expected.

First, potential buyers can see that a lot of money has already been spent on the cemetery. There are huge granite "features" or statues that delineate the cemetery's veterans', Catholic and non-denominational burial areas. A $2-million mausoleum is scheduled to be built soon, rather than waiting until 50 percent of its burial spaces are sold. A 45-foot musical bell tower also is planned for the grounds.

"I don't have to say a lot when they (buyers) see things like that," Rice said.

But one of the cemetery's best sales tools is the reputation of eye surgeon Dr. James Gills, whose company is developing Trinity Communities and who owns 57 percent of the stock in the cemetery corporation.

"His reputation gave us a lot of stability," she said.

Rice has even been able to put her own stamp on the cemetery. When she was thinking about a logo for the new cemetery _ something that would be both recognizable and symbolic, she came up with the idea of a bridge.

It could symbolize the bridge between this life and the next, between grief and peace and many other things, she said. The cemetery's slogan became: "Trinity Memorial Gardens, Your Bridge to Peace, Hope, Healing."

So she asked the cemetery designers if they could incorporate a bridge on the property.

The result was a round, elevated, elaborately landscaped oasis near the development's entrance. A path runs through the oasis. At the beginning, there is a fountain, surrounded by prickly plants. That symbolizes the grief and pain of loss. As the path continues, the water becomes calmer and the plants softer until it passes over a bridge to an area where the water ends in a calm pool. That, Savage said, symbolizes ultimate acceptance and peace.

"This will help us, help people understand that, even though you are feeling lousy right now, . . . there is a bridge to cross over and there will be a time in your life that you will feel alive again," she said.

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