by Joe Bollig
GREELEY — Family roots run deep in small, rural parishes. And if you need confirmation, all you need to do is visit the cemetery.
You can practically draw family trees by reading the headstones.
At St. John Parish in Greeley, Richie Rommelfanger is tasked with taking care of an important part of the history and heritage of the parish — as well as carrying on a family tradition.
Rommelfanger keeps track of who is buried where in the parish cemetery, as well as selling and marking off lots for new burials.
“I was asked to take care of selling the lots and taking care of the cemetery several years ago,” he said. “My Uncle Joe was doing it, when he was in his mid-70s. He moved out of town to be with his family, so I took over what he did.”
In previous years the job was more “hands-on.”
His uncle used to dig graves by hand, but now they use a machine. Rommelfanger also used to mow with push mowers, but now volunteers use big riding mowers. He also used to work by hand to level the graves.
“All I do is look after the cemetery — selling lots and marking out the lots, and talking to people about where they might want to be buried,” said Rommelfanger.
It’s not a difficult job, but it can be tricky in one aspect: You’ve got to know for sure where the plots are — and if they’re occupied.
The cemetery was laid out over 100 years ago and the plots have corner markers — if you can find them. Sometimes they’re buried six to 10 inches deep, and Rommelfanger has to do a bit of digging to find them.
“Sometimes it takes some patience,” he said.
Rommelfanger, who is a lifelong parishioner, has plenty of relatives buried in the cemetery — most of whom helped build up the parish in one way or another.
“It’s just part of my heritage,” he said. “My family, way back to the turn of the [previous] century, always volunteered to do things for the parish.”
If volunteerism built the church, volunteerism also maintains it.
And Rommelfanger is reminded of that every time he walks past the graves of his family members as he carries out his duties.