By Amy Smith
The American Fork City Cemetery won’t be the same this Memorial Day.
In fact, it will never be the same after May 19.
Ray Garrett, the man who supervised the cemetery, kept the grounds and developed a special spirit at American Fork City Cemetery for 18 years announced his resignation as city sexton through a letter read by Mayor Ted Barratt at Tuesday’s May 9 city council meeting.
“As I look back over the past 20 years, I do not have any regrets of the choice that I made to work for American Fork City,” Garrett said.
Garrett has accepted a position to help close friend Gary Young manage a large recreational park south of Santaquin.
“After much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to accept this new position,” Garrett said. “It’s been the hardest decision I’ve made in my life.”
Garrett never imagined that managing a 20-acre cemetery could affect his life so deeply. But from the moment he started caring for thousands of gravesites in 1982, Garrett has developed an indescribable respect for those who finish their journey on earth and continue on to the next, he said.
“I didn’t realize that this type of work would have such an impact on my life,” he said. “This cemetery is sacred ground. There are special people buried here.”
Garrett has witnessed the burials of numerous close friends. He said he will always be grateful for the opportunity he has had to “mourn with those that mourn and give comfort to those who stand in need of comfort.”
“It’s been the greatest experience in my life to work with friends who have lost love ones — to laugh with them and cry with them,” Garrett said.
One may argue who has received the greater impact: the cemetery and its associates or Garrett.
Since Garrett’s arrival at the cemetery, he has added many features that increase the spirit of that sacred ground.
On April 11, 1998, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated a monument entitled “The Garden” that sits on the west side of the cemetery amidst flowers, trees and carefully placed rocks.
The monument reads, “Dedicated to Jesus Christ and those who have given their lives for him and to honor the sick and the afflicted.”
Garrett added the monument to honor those who have suffered mental and physical diseases and have now passed on. He said “The Garden” helps ease the grief of living relatives.
“This garden is for people who have lost loved ones to come and ponder,” said Garrett. “That’s part of the healing process.”
Garrett’s co-workers describe him as compassionate, caring and constantly willing to help anyone in need.
Garrett eases the pain that family and friends feel when a loved one dies, said Shauna Thomas, accounts payable for American Fork City whose son, brother and father have all been buried in the American Fork City Cemetery while Garrett worked as sexton.
In November of 1995, Thomas’ 10-year-old son Austin passed away. She wanted to put a Christmas tree near his gravesite in December. Garrett helped her set up a tree complete with lights on the hill next to Austin’s gravesite to help wish him a merry Christmas.
The second year, the Thomas family was out of town in the beginning of December. Before they returned, Ray bought a tree and put it next to Austin Thomas’ gravesite, Thomas said.
“He’s one of the most compassionate men that I know,” she said. “I feel comfortable having my son, brother and dad there, because I know Ray is watching over them and taking care of them.”
Thomas said that when Garrett handed her a copy of his letter of resignation, she started to cry. “He’s like a brother to me,” she said.
“Ray cares about people,” said Pam Hunsaker, American Fork City Treasurer/Personnel.
“People who come in to the city hall to pay for gravesites say that he makes them feel good.”
When Hunsaker’s four-year-old nephew passed away, her father shoveled snow from the walkway that led directly to his grandson’s gravesite. After her father died six years ago, Hunsaker said that Garret continued the ritual. “That walkway still gets shoveled.”
“He sees someone with a need, and he fulfills it,” she said.
“He’s touched so many people,” said Melanie Marsh, deputy recorder and cemetery secretary.
Each Christmas Eve, Garrett and his family spend the day placing luminaries, which are white paper sacks with sand and a candle in them, around the entire perimeter of the cemetery and on the gravesites of special friends.
He also puts lights on the gravesites of his friends’ loved ones if he knows his friends are out of town for Christmas, Hunsaker said.
Garrett makes the cemetery sparkle, said Marsh. The luminaries glow all night long on Christmas Eve.
Garrett’s sincerity extends to all aspects of his job. Because cemeteries are so sacred, Garrett believes that they need to be kept at the highest level of maintenance.
AGarrett and his crew go to great lengths to keep the cemetery grounds clean, Hunsaker said.
“Everything is very meticulous for Memorial Day,” she said. “All the chopped blades of grass are blown away from the headstones.”
Garrett’s departure from the American Fork City Cemetery on May 19 will affect the lives of everyone he has worked with over the last 18 years.
“He’s not replaceable,” said Carl Wanlass, American Fork City Administrator.
“It’s hard to see him go because he’s our tie to our loved ones. No one can fill his shoes,” Hunsaker said. “Someone might be able to do the physical work of caring for the cemetery, but no one will be as compassionate as Ray is.”
Garrett’s crew will miss him.
People with friends and relatives in his cemetery will miss him.
The cemetery itself will miss Garrett’s calm and comforting spirit.
And Garrett will miss the cemetery.
“American Fork City Cemetery will always be dear to my heart, as will all of those co-workers that I have spent so much time with. If you have a job that you love, it’s like leaving your family when you move on,” Garrett said.
“I’ll be back to visit many times.”