One burial a week is no way to keep a cemetery running, but somehow, Vale Cemetery has managed to stay afloat with just 50 burials a year.
That might change soon. This spring, a University at Albany marketing class was given the challenge of boosting Vale’s fortunes. The only problem is they have to develop a marketing strategy without a single cent in their advertising budget.
The students threw themselves into their work and quickly catalogued Vale’s advantages. It’s one of the cheapest cemeteries in the country, has plenty of room for family plots, enjoys an attractive setting in a convenient location and can offer customers the allure of being buried among three centuries of historic figures.
There’s just one disadvantage.
“A lot of people don’t realize it’s still open for business,” said student Andrew Falkenstein.
After much discussion, the students decided the best way to run a free advertising campaign about the cemetery was to appeal to people’s stomachs.
This Saturday, they will offer free food and drink to anyone willing to invest a few hours of sweat to help clean up the cemetery. The Spring Cleaning and Beautification Day will, they hope, remind residents of the beauty of their city cemetery as well as emphasizing the sheer amount of land still available for burials.
“We want the community to realize, to see the land,” Falkenstein said. “It’s 100 acres and they only hire one person. They’re going to need help from the community, especially after last winter with the ice storm.”
Volunteers have already chopped up
the trees that fell in the ice storm. But piles of brush remain throughout the cemetery and must be hauled away.
Vale Cemetery Board of Trustees President Bernie McEvoy said 36 Union College fraternity members did much of the heavy work last week, and the final touches will be completed by children during the April 25 Youth Service Day. What he needs this Saturday are residents willing to rake and pick up brush.
“The major thing is to have the place looking tip-top for Memorial Day,” McEvoy said. The cemetery hosts the Memorial Day veterans ceremony.
Beyond the cleanup, McEvoy is hopeful that the UAlbany students’ plan will have some effect on the burial numbers.
“We have room for 200 years of burials. There’s tons of room,” he said. “We’re a very economical place. I expect we have the lowest rate.”
The cemetery charges $375 to $550 for a regular burial, and $175 for a space in the urn garden. Other cemeteries charge up to $6,000, he said.
McEvoy noted that after seven security cameras were installed, graffiti and tombstone-tipping stopped immediately. Now that the problem appears to be solved, he plans to get state funding to repair the cemetery’s few broken tombstones.