HAMMOND | The chaos and disrepair long characterizing the city's massive Oak Hill Cemetery should be met with order following the recent hiring of a cemetery manager, North Township officials said.
Former ambulance dispatcher and community organizer Kelly Vicari had her first day on the job late last month, beginning to manage the 22-acre, 10,000-plus burial ground containing the remains of Hammond founders, dozens of Civil War veterans and other historic graves.
On Monday, Vicari, of Hobart, said her first couple of weeks have involved sifting through boxes of cards chronicling burial records over the years and other cluttered records.
She said a major challenge will be computerizing all of the records and alphabetizing the names of those interred at the Hohman Avenue cemetery, making it easier for family members and others to locate grave sites.
Currently, the boxes of burial records are organized somewhat haphazardly by cemetery section, Vicari said. When an interested party wants to locate a particular grave, boxes of each of the cemetery's 20 sections must be checked rather than searching a digital database or alphabetized list.
In addition to bringing order to cemetery records, Vicari's $30,000 per year position will involve restoring dignity to the long-neglected cemetery, North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan said.
In late 2011, The Times published an investigation into the cemetery, detailing headstones removed from graves and dumped in a pile with trash and debris, unmarked grave sites, unkempt conditions and largely absentee management.
Mrvan's office took over management and then ownership of the cemetery last year, and trustee crews eventually found several human bones in dirt berms on the cemetery's edge — apparently exhumed accidentally by past cemetery workers when digging new graves.
Mrvan said he was impressed with Vicari's track record of organizing community-based projects when she interviewed for the cemetery post.
In particular, he noted Vicari's work in organizing region donations of goods and supplies for survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, then transporting the goods to the affected sites shortly after the attacks.
"She's a go-getter, and that's what is needed here," Mrvan said. "We're making progress at Oak Hill, and we want that to continue. We want it to be a premier place for burial in Northwest Indiana."
Given a limited government operating budget, Vicari said she will use her post to solicit donations, seek grants and harness volunteer cleanup efforts that began as a result of past problems at Oak Hill.