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Cemetery superintendent, staff take on challenges

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Ruben Esquivel has worked for the City of Roswell for 29 years and has been superintendent of South Park Cemetery for 13 years. (Submitted Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Todd Wildermuth
Special to the Daily Record

Ruben Esquivel credits his parents with instilling in him a strong work ethic. And it is that professional and personal dedication he learned from his family that he is now putting to use as he tries to meet the needs of other families as they go through the difficult times involved in saying final goodbyes as loved ones are laid to rest.

Of course the superintendent of the City of Roswell’s South Park Cemetery, which includes the General Douglas McBride Veterans Cemetery that was established in 2014, can’t accomplish the task alone. Esquivel oversees a staff of nine other cemetery employees who complete the team that brings “hard work and dedication” to their jobs every day.

“No two burials are the same and we must quickly adapt to the needs of the service,” says Esquivel, adding that he enjoys “helping and working with people, and making things easier for folks during hardship,” although it can be a challenge “trying to meet everyone’s needs.”

Esquivel is a veteran City of Roswell employee of 29 years. He worked as a groundskeeper at the Spring River Zoo and an electrician helper for Facilities Maintenance before stepping into the lead role at the cemetery 13 years ago. Today, he also serves as the city’s arborist, a role in which he conducts tree assessments throughout the city and helps with recommendations for trees that would be best suited for this area, as well as organizing the annual Arbor Day celebration and teaching people proper tree care.

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Esquivel’s main focus for the city is his cemetery job. His role is referred to as a sexton — someone who cares for a cemetery — but his formal title at South Park Cemetery is superintendent. The lifelong Roswell resident is responsible for arranging where in the cemetery people will be buried, selling burial property to individuals and families, and managing the grounds and maintenance crew and office personnel.

Esquivel has been involved in preparing almost 5,000 funeral services at South Park. About 120 acres of the 210-acre cemetery are currently used for burials. The cemetery averages a little more than 360 burials a year and has been host to a total of a little more than 32,000 burials, with the oldest grave dating to 1880.

Among those buried at South Park are Elizabeth Garrett, writer of the official state song, “O Fair New Mexico” and daughter of famous sheriff Pat Garrett, who is known for killing Billy the Kid. Another grave marker belongs to Bob Crosby, a member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and three-time winner of the rodeo World All-Around Champion in the 1920s. Minor-league slugger Joe Bauman is another famous name found at South Park. Bauman’s career was highlighted by his time with the Roswell Rockets, for whom he hit 72 home runs in 1954, setting a professional baseball record that stood until 2001. Joe Bauman Stadium in south Roswell is home today to high school and minor-league baseball.

As for other unique aspects that come with managing the city cemetery in Roswell, Esquivel hears one thing fairly frequently.

“People often ask about ghost sightings and if there are aliens buried at South Park,” he says, adding he and his staff have not had to handle any paranormal situations.

Todd Wildermuth is public information officer for the City of Roswell. Today’s feature is one of an ongoing series provided by Wildermuth highlighting the work of various city employees and departments.