Shortly before spring and summer maintenance expenses begin, Zion Lutheran Cemetery’s board members are relieved that the organization’s tax-exempt status has resumed. The classification had lapsed due to a missed paperwork filing.

Board President Paul Railsback said the Pershing organization has been reinstated by the Internal Revenue Service and Indiana Secretary of State’s office.

He credited Secretary-Treasurer Donna Wright for her countless hours and persistence in completing the required paperwork.

The cemetery’s tax-exempt status has been backdated to July 2022, so gifts made in that calendar year can count as tax-deductible.

Railsback and Wright said they’re hopeful that the board’s reinstatement on federal and state levels will give area residents and cemetery clients’ families a renewed confidence that contributions will be responsibly spent.

“Hopefully people see we are trying to make some changes,” Wright said.

Wright urges other organizations to make sure their tax-exempt status doesn’t lapse because it’s a simple form, and much cheaper than trying to be reinstated.

She first submitted $600 and a 40-page document to the IRS, then had to write an essay on what the organization had done to prevent another lapse. Next, she completed additional nonprofit tax forms after gathering bank records to account for the years when paperwork had not been submitted, and sent more money for each year’s missed filing.

Wright said once the IRS resumed the board’s tax-exempt status, she sent a copy of that letter to the state. She has since completed this year’s paperwork, so the cemetery is already approved until 2024.

Looking back

Zion Lutheran Cemetery’s finances received widespread attention last fall. Visitors to the property in the 1100 block of South Germantown Road noticed the grass growing abnormally tall and discovered the contracted mowing crew had stopped work after not being paid.

Concerned residents had emergency meetings, began maintaining the property and investigated its recent management. They learned that the cemetery’s nonprofit association had been dissolved and went inactive as of February 2021 because required paperwork was not filed the previous August.

A few dozen plot owners and concerned relatives attended an Oct. 3 meeting, during which Indiana State Police Detective Andy Wandersee confirmed an investigation into the cemetery’s prior management had begun. No update is yet available.

That night, lot owners voted for a slate of new board members. The board has since updated several bylaws and procedures to help restore confidence. Those who already own plots are now encouraged to send a copy of their certificate of burial rights to the cemetery’s post office box to help ensure board records are up to date.

What’s next

Key dates coming up:

  • Spring cleaning is set for March 12-18. Items not removed from the ground by that time will be removed to prepare for mowing season. Items placed on the concrete base or attached to the stones are OK.
  • The cemetery board has begun advertising in Western Wayne News to seek bids for services such as mowing, grave opening and snow removal before burials. Submissions are due March 15.
  • Railsback wants to ensure the cemetery receives enough donations to cover its 2023 expenses, estimated at $15,000. The board also still owes about $8,000 to its previous mowing service that they want to pay, and would also like to repair potholes on the north two drives.
  • The board’s annual public meeting takes place at 1:30 p.m. April 22 in the adjacent Zion Lutheran Church’s meeting room.
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A version of this article appeared in the March 1 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.