NEOSHO, Mo. — Neosho is now in the cemetery business, regardless of whether it wanted to be.

The City Council accepted on Tuesday the deed to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery in southern Neosho. While a more formal plan is under development, the city has assumed complete control over its operations, from maintaining the graves there now to making future plots available.

The transition took place as part of steps outlined in state law, said David Kennedy, interim city administrator. When a cemetery enters into a condition of receivership, it falls into the ownership of the jurisdiction where it is located, he said.

That means while the city gained the property, it also took on the operating costs. Kennedy said initial estimates put that at about $100,000 a year.

"A lot of that (estimated cost) has yet to be determined by how the city moves forward," Kennedy said. "We have to have at least one employee, but do we make it two or three, or is it cheaper to contract work out, as far as mowing and weedeating."

In a quit-claim deed, Wes Franklin was listed as the president of the cemetery board, but his involvement with it started in August. He said he filled in as president in order to get the transfer of ownership started. But before his involvement, the cemetery was under investigation.

Detective Brandon Beshears, of the Neosho Police Department, said that an investigation of embezzlement and missing funds was started in June. The investigation was wrapped up in September. A call placed to Newton County Prosecutor Jake Skouby asking about the status of any charges was not returned.

Franklin said he and others on the current board had never met before August and have no clue about the conditions that led to the situation.

"They were the board on paper, but they were never called to meet," Franklin said. "I have no idea why. The previous caretaker was in ill health and basically homebound for the last several years, and he passed away in July."

The cemetery has about 11,000 plots, about 8,500 of which are either occupied or sold, across the about 30-acre property. Its first recorded burial happened in 1846, when it was a small private cemetery.

Franklin said that the Neosho lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows organized around 1855, and it took over ownership and management of the cemetery at about the same time. In 1986, ownership was transferred to Neosho IOOF Cemetery Inc., likely because the local lodge dissolved, Franklin said. That group held the deed until last Tuesday, when it was assumed by the city.

Along with the property, the city inherits a trust worth about $120,000; only its dividends may be spent, and only toward upkeep and maintenance, Kennedy said.

Kennedy said area funeral homes and others have been helpful in city getting up to speed about its new property.

"We have a lot of entities that have stepped up to help," Kennedy said. "That helps us move forward until we have a final plan."

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.

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