By Robert Lucke
Memorial Day is over and in Havre there is one person, at least, who is breathing a sigh of relief. That is Doug Fisher, the manager of Hill County cemeteries.
Many people think of cemeteries in this area as being only Highland and Calvary cemeteries in Havre. However, Fisher and his crew tend to Sunset, Mount Hope, Rudyard, Spring Coulee north of Havre, Box Elder, Inverness, Hingham, North Gildford and South Gildford.
Hill County cemeteries are run by Hill County. A cemetery board makes decisions and Fisher and his crew of seven do the day-to-day work that cemeteries require.
This Memorial Day was special for Fisher and his crew.
"We had a major water break when we turned on the water," said Fisher. "It took a long time to get parts, and we could do no fertilizing or watering of the grass until we got it fixed, so things did not look good as early as usual."
By Memorial Day things were up and running. Good thing too, thinks Fisher.
"This was a very heavily decorated Memorial Day," related Fisher. "I think it was due to the weather. You know, usually it rains on Memorial Day."
Graves are eight feet long, three feet wide and about five and a half feet deep. Prices are $225.00 for a single grave and $100.00 for a plot to bury ashes providing those using the spots are Hill County taxpayers. And like anything else, great importance is given to location, location, location.
"Most people want to have their loved ones buried somewhere that they can see the Bear Paw Mountains and the college," said Fisher, smiling. "It is very important for people where their loved ones are buried."
Not only that, but the "line in the sand" that years ago decreed that Calvary was for Catholics and Highland was for Protestants, well, both areas have become very ecumenical these days.
As might be expected, cremations have slowed the sale of cemetery plots and led to added spaces just for the burial of ashes.
"We had a cremation wall up, but it got vandalized, so we took it down," said Fisher. "We are going to put another up, only this time it will be made out of granite."
The fact that the cemetery looks so good, Fisher said, has more to do with his present crew and his predecessor Henry Bebee than himself.
"Our records are all fairly accurate and that is thanks to Henry Bebee," said Fisher. "I took his place and he taught me and gets a lot of credit for helping me to get started up here."
Fisher has been at the cemetery for 17 years and has been the manager for the last seven.
"And I want to say that I get the credit for a lot, but I could not do a thing without my crew. I think that this year I have the best crew I have ever had," admitted Fisher.
And even in that business, there are those days that nothing seems to go right.
"We had a spring thaw. It had chinooked all night long and we had a heck of a mess getting in and out with the machinery. We even made big ruts and later that day even the hearse got stuck," said Fisher. "Best advice is, don't panic."
How do they dig those graves when it has been 20 below zero for a month?
"We have what is called a grave thawer. It is a three-by-eight dome, propane fueled. We light it the night before and let it burn all night long. We dig the grave early the next morning and it is easy to dig," said Fisher.
"I don't really care for burying babies," added Fisher. "That sort of bothers all of us up here. And young people leaving early, that is kind of tough. You know, you think you are born, live a good life and a long life and then you pass on. That is how it should be."
There is a great upside for Fisher and his cemetery job.
"It is a lot of fun, actually," said Fisher, with a smile on his face. "I care about it and get to meet a lot of people and you know I get to work outdoors. I don't like doing the bookwork. That is the worst part of the job. But helping people in their time of need, that is what is most satisfying."