The death of a loved one is often a highly stressful time for family and friends who are coping with deep emotions in addition to organizing the practical details of a memorial service. The Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation (OUUC) is available to support members and friends through this difficult period. There is no fee for space, minister, or the reception. Refreshments for up to 100 people are available at no charge. Contact the Minister to arrange for services.
The Columbarium within the Memorial Garden is set aside for interment of the human cremains of members and friends of the Congregation. There is no fee for the interment of cremains. Some families start the Memorial Service in the sanctuary, then move to the Memorial Garden for a second ceremony to commit the cremains. Contact the Minister to arrange for services.
It all started sometime late in 2001 when Connie Ruhl and Fumiko Coyne were on one of their weekly walks in the South Capitol neighborhood. If you’ve ever walked around St. John’s Episcopal Church, you’ll come upon a stone nook with a stone sculpture and a stone receptacle. The word “Columbarium” is inscribed on the stone receptacle. Years before, Fumiko saw an article about this columbarium in the local Daily Olympian.
This discovery led to a dictionary search and an added vocabulary word for the good people at OUUC. A columbarium is a receptacle for co-mingled ashes. Columbariums are typically found at churches, where co-mingling ashes is a legal alternative to singular grave sites. The other vocabulary word we learned was “cremains” which means cremated remains.
Connie and Fumiko started dreaming about having a memorial space at OUUC, and so a few years later they talked to the Rev. Arthur Vaeni about the possibility. He was serving as a host at the Camp Quixote tent camp at the time, so I can only imagine what the residents thought when they overheard the discussion.
Connie and Fumiko discovered one more columbarium in town at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on Boulevard and spent time talking to the minister there about the details of building and using the columbarium. They also talked to the staff at the Tumwater Masonic Memorial Park about the costs of purchasing and installing a columbarium. So started the relationship with Lettie and Lindsay from the Memorial Park.
Soon after that, Connie and Fumiko started having meetings at OUUC and inviting all interested persons to join in planning a Memorial Garden. We had about a table full of people at any given time. It started out with a lot of education. What were our legal obligations? How long would this last? What happens if we decide to expand the building and the Memorial Garden gets bulldozed?
After we finished with all the bureaucracy, we started hearing more personal stories. Fumiko told us about the family gathering at the crematorium in Tokyo when her father’s body was cremated.
Some of you may remember that Nick Dawson wanted his ashes scattered from an airplane so that he could “travel the world.” His wife, Mary Ellen, had them dropped via airplane in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Luci Phillips’s ashes were scattered by her son in one of our flower gardens at the front of the church.
Dealing with a loved one’s cremains is a very personal matter and there are many options.
So then the Memorial Garden Committee decided to think really big. We scouted out a large spot in the woods for a big garden. The Covenant of UU Pagans got involved and asked about adding a labyrinth to the garden. Our partner church in Kissolymos, Romania, asked if they could donate an ornate wooden pole with a bell to decorate the garden. JoAnn and Mike Young started plotting how to get the pole here in their suitcases. One night, Stacey Plumley came to one of the meetings, and after about an hour disclosed that she was a landscape designer and was willing to help. She drew detailed plans that included the columbarium, a boardwalk with railings, benches, a gate, the bell, and the labyrinth. It was going to cost about $80,000.
Then we built the parking lot. The Memorial Garden project was tabled. Until one day, Linda Crabtree cornered me and with her steely direct tone said, “Glenis wants to talk to you.”
Now, Glenis Lanning and I go way back, but still, when Glenis speaks, people listen. She wanted to know what was going on with the Memorial Garden project, and when she could feel comfortable that there would be a place for her remains. Needless to say, the wheels were in motion again. She handed me a large check as “seed money” and we set about determining the location for, and ordering the columbarium. We decided it was best to reduce our ideas to what was reasonable and do-able. We decided on the small corner off the parking lot, near the nursery. Ironically, this was the spot that Linda Whitcher recommended five years earlier. The landscaping, the garden, the pole, the bell, the benches, and the labyrinth were still on hold.
We needed more money to add to Glenis’s seed money, and the Board did not want us to ask the congregation for funds, for fear of the effect on other giving. So, we approached three other long-term members that we thought might donate and would look good in a photo with Glenis. Dorothy Mehaffey, Jeanette Whitcher, and Ruth Weber said, “Yes” before we could even explain the need. Tim Ransom took their portrait and it will hang in the hallway with others that have made significant contributions to OUUC.
The columbarium arrived in two installments. The first installment required digging a large hole to accommodate a 3’ tall by 4’ wide circular unsealed concrete vault with an 8” thick concrete cover. A six inch PVC pipe was the only thing visible above ground when the crew was finished. The second installment was the actual columbarium, and it was a little dicey in getting here. It got stuck at the Port of Tacoma during the Longshoremen’s slow-down. Lettie and Lindsay at the Memorial Park worked a lot of magic in order to get our stone here on time for our dedication. The columbarium is made of granite, weighs about 1800 pounds, and fits over the PVC pipe. The top is polished and engraved with a chalice and the word “Columbarium”. It will last at least one hundred years. It has an unlimited capacity for cremains, as the cremains will seep through the concrete vault and return to the earth.
Any member, family member, or friend of OUUC is welcome to use the columbarium at no charge. We will keep records of the cremains that are committed to the columbarium.