Everyday people: Germann finds his cemetery job peaceful, rewardingWorking day after day in the presence of hundreds of people — none of them living — might sound spooky to some, but Greg Germann doesn’t think twice about it.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Working day after day in the presence of hundreds of people — none of them living — might sound spooky to some, but Greg Germann doesn’t think twice about it.
In just about any movie ever made, cemeteries are portrayed in eerie, uncomfortable settings. Main characters always seem to get themselves lost in a sea of dark shadows, hearing nothing but creaky iron gates, whistling wind and several mysterious sounds. All of this conveniently takes place during a severe thunderstorm.
Such extravagant portrayals may make for good movie-watching, but they aren’t quite realistic, especially when it comes to Oakwood Cemetery where Germann works.
“It’s rather peaceful,” the Hay Creek resident said. “I really like it up here.”
It’s mid-morning on a weekday in January, and a bright sun is shining down on Oakwood, lighting up gravestones large and small. The snow-covered ground glimmers in the daylight and provides the cemetery with an welcoming feeling. A place that seems so scary to people at nighttime could hardly uphold that title now.
Frigid temperatures make it uncomfortable to stand outside, let alone work, but maintaining a cemetery is a year-round job.
Germann has been employed with the Red Wing parks department for 37 years and started working with the cemeteries about seven years ago. Oakwood and Burnside cemeteries take up the majority of his time, though he also works at Mount Carmel Cemetery near Prairie Island.
“No one has been buried there for quite a few years, but we still maintain it,” Germann explained.
Whether trimming trees, digging graves or installing monuments, he finds the work takes plenty of effort, especially when cemetery size is considered. More than 17,000 bodies lie in Oakwood and Burnside combined, and about 100 are added annually.
“Last year we had 94 burials,” Germann said. “That’s pretty average.”
Maintenance is a big part of his job, but “mainly it’s the funerals,” he said. And that’s where the hard part comes in.
“It’s emotional when they have to come in here and buy a grave and they’ve never done that before,” Germann said.
From the purchase of the grave to the actual burial, Germann sees it all. As family and friends say final goodbyes, he waits respectfully at a distance until they’re all comfortable enough to leave.
“You’ve got to stay in the background and let them grieve,” he explained.
While the funerals make for dreary occasions, what follows years down the road is one of Germann’s favorite parts about working in the cemeteries. Whether they’re coming for the first time or just have trouble remembering where their loved one lies, visitors have easy access to someone who knows the cemetery from corner to corner.
“I really enjoy helping people locate family and friends and relatives,” Germann said. “I really find that rewarding.”
Working at a cemetery keeps Germann outdoors on a regular basis, but that’s nothing too different from his life at home in Hay Creek.
The longtime farmer tends to both corn and soybean fields, as well Hereford calves.
“That’s what I really like to do, is take care of my farm,” he said.
Even his leisurely activities have him enjoying the great outdoors. Camping with family and riding his motorcycle occupy some of his free time, while briefly escaping winter weather with annual vacations also keeps him busy.
But whether at work or not, cemeteries are still part of his life. As a member of the cemetery board at his small-town church, they’re one thing Germann doesn’t try to escape.
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