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Court to hear ideas for takeover of Memory Lawn; California businessman confirms cemetery proposal

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A California businessman with Roswell roots has proposed a way that he and other investors could assume management of Memory Lawn Memorial Park, which was established in 1953. A district court is scheduled to hear the matter Dec. 18. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

A proposal to assume management of Memory Lawn Memorial Park, now in a court-ordered receivership, is expected to be considered by a district court next week.

Joan Park, one of the original plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the former owners of the cemetery and a member of the Rescue Memory Lawn Memorial Park Alliance, said that she is familiar with what California businessman Henry Mayhew has suggested.

Park said she is in favor of what has been proposed at this point.

“It is a resolution that takes care of the cemetery long-term when we are all gone,” she said.

Mayhew said he is interested in large part because of his Roswell roots. He said he was born in Roswell at St. Mary’s Hospital, that his father attended New Mexico Military Institute and that his mother, grandmother and aunt are buried at Memory Lawn. He said his idea is that he and some investors could set up a nonprofit organization to run the burial grounds just outside the city limits on East 19th Street. He estimates that it will take at least $100,000 to bring into well-maintained condition, including identifying each grave.

“I am not interested in setting up a fund and giving people money,” he said, “but I am interested in doing something that earns revenues that can go to a 501(c)(3) organization that would run the cemetery.”

Park, Mayhew and others involved chose not to divulge much information at this point, indicating that they want the judge to consider ideas first.

The hearing has been set for the 9:30 a.m., Dec. 18, before Judge Freddie Romero of the 5th Judicial District Court in Roswell.

The 40-acre cemetery is now under the control of receiver Robert Corn, Chaves County commissioner and a former magistrate judge. The court ordered the cemetery into a receivership in 2010 after the civil lawsuit involving Parker and seven other named plaintiffs was filed in 2009. Corn became the receiver in 2011.

The lawsuit alleged that former owners Allen and Vivian Drake and their family business, Avidlo LLC, were not providing proper care for the grounds and burial sites and had unjustly enriched themselves using cemetery assets. The Drakes later declared bankruptcy.

The Roswell City Council recently considered assuming ownership of cemetery, where more than 2,000 people are buried and about 50 available burial plots remain. The council voted in April 6-4 against the motion that would have made the cemetery the second one owned by the city, as it already runs South Park Cemetery on South Main Street.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.