Gary Wyatt Story: One Man, One Mission

9

IMPERIAL — Gary Wyatt didn’t set out to be a hero for those in the Memorial Gardens Cemetery community. In his eyes, he saw a need, and did his part to contribute.

The former pastor turned politician, who served on the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, is currently the Director of Intergovernmental Relations for the Imperial County. He believes in helping those in need, without expecting anything in return. For Wyatt, this commitment has manifested itself in a downtrodden cemetery and memorial park.

His intention was simply to help, not to make a cause or campaign out of a neglected cemetery; yet, Wyatt has become its unofficial spokesperson, with extensive knowledge on the history and people buried in the place.

Wyatt’s story with Memorial Gardens Cemetery began during his tenure on the Board of Supervisors, where he became acquainted with Linda Cook, an advocate for the cemetery for years. She personally has relatives buried there, and when the cemetery began to fall into disrepair, took action on their behalf.

The cemetery is owned by Pistol River Properties, a company based out of Delaware that owns many successful cemeteries across the country. For unknown reasons, they have let this one fall into disrepair, to the point that no grass is growing, the irrigation system is broken, and plots have sunken. The million-dollar endowment fund disappeared over the years, leaving rumors swirling that the money was not managed with the best interest of the cemetery or community in mind.

For a period, Pistol River Properties was unwilling to sell, while at the same time unwilling to manage the upkeep of the property. The plot is now for sale, but the work and financing needed to turn the cemetery around is a “daunting task,” with “everything stacked against it,” Wyatt commented.

After completing his term on the Board of Supervisors, Wyatt decided to help out as a private, concerned citizen. Twice a month, Wyatt heads to his local Walmart and purchases around 15 to 20 cordless solar lights out of his personal paycheck. From there, he proceeds down to the cemetery and sets the lights around the graves. His goal is that each burial site, marked or unmarked, will have a light illuminating it in the evening. This is his way to honor those deceased.

This has become a family affair, as his wife frequently helps him purchase and set up the lights, along with his grandchildren. Wyatt sees this a teaching opportunity, a way for his grandkids, ages four and six, to learn the cycle of life, and respect and learn from those who have passed on. The kids are mindful of this, and follow a ritual of scraping off any dirt on the grave marker, and paying respect to the person buried there before putting the light in. Wyatt wants his grandchildren to learn to give to others for the right reasons.

A tall, imposing man by nature, he gives quite a different impression dressed in navy shorts, a tan shirt, and straw hat, bending on one knee to assist his grandchildren in grooming the cemetery. Wyatt also maintains the area by chopping weeds, cutting down dead trees, and bagging and cleaning up trash and brush around the edges. The property sits unfenced and unsecure, and for Wyatt, serves as a constant reminder of what used to be, and what should be.

There are over 900 locals buried there, many of whom are veterans. Perhaps, the most celebrated being Brenda Sue Sayers, the murdered little girl made famous by local author, Glenn Crowson.

To see the cemetery during the day is a sad sight, says Wyatt, but he enjoys the sight in the evening. Memorial Gardens at night has a haunting, ethereal appeal that Wyatt comments as being “pretty in its starkness.” In contrast, during the day it is often overlooked as just another piece of land. To Cook and the families of those buried in the cemetery, it holds precious memories; to Wyatt, it holds meaning – a measurement of society.

“I believe a society is measured by several things,” Wyatt stated, “by how it treats its old, young, its animals, and the deceased.” He is convicted that as a society we must help those who can’t help themselves. He reminds us that there are societies that don’t value those things. “We should,” he stated.

After weighing all the possibilities, and having a true comprehension of the legalities involved in managing a cemetery, Wyatt has concluded that the best course of action would be to turn the land into a veteran’s plot, allowing veterans to be buried there for free. There is interest in this idea, he stated, but the problem lies in funding. He believes it would be marvelous if someone provided the endowment. Ultimately, he believes that change for the cemetery is “going to happen because private citizens did whatever they could.”

Part of the cemetery at night, illuminated by lights.
Part of the cemetery at night, illuminated by lights.

 

20150403_151336 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset 20150403_150611 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset 20150403_15092620150403_150611 20150403_150742

9 COMMENTS

  1. I was very impressed with Mr. Wyatt when I met him. In my brief time in control of the cemetery I personally paid to fix the office doors and roof as well as to have trash removed. Unfortunately when it was sold, the owners screwed it up even more, so the conditions worsened. It is my understanding that the cemetery was in escrow a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t know if that has been closed.

    Best of luck!

  2. My father had been advocating for this sacred ground for many years. As a Vietnam War Veteran, he pleaded several times with the board of supervisors, including Mr. Wyatt and nothing was ever done. I’m not sure what Mr. Wyatt’s position was at the time, but my father’s requests for action and or information fell on deaf ears. It is a disgrace that we would allow our soldiers to lay in such a bad place. Is this how we honor our soldiers?!

  3. As we have family members buried at Memory Gardens, we can barely remember when it was a beautiful oasis in the Valley. We are so pleased to know who the Angels are that have provided the lights and loving care recently. Thank you Wyatt family and the ongoing efforts of Linda Cook. For many years I hauled water to water the trees I had planted near our gravesites for shade. If there is anything at all we can do to help with restoring Memory Gardens to a dignified resting place for Imperial Valley residents, please let me know. Our Valley pioneers and Veterans deserve our attention and respect and I’m sure we can all do this together.

  4. i also have family there. If someone wanted to donate to your project how would we go about it? Thank you and your family!!

  5. Dear Mr. Wyatt & Family,
    I can’t tell you in mere words what your inspirational quest to clean up & iadd dignity & honor to all those
    resting in Memory Gardens Cemetery means for me. My belved grandparents, Seth & Cordelia Grimes, plus
    their dear friends are buried there. My dear Grandpa, a Valley pioneer, whose family had a homestead only
    a short distance from the cemetery, was buried there 51 years ago ; my Grandma joined him in 1977.
    I was lovingly raised by these Imperial Valley pioneers and can vividly recall my grandparents making plans
    in the 1950’s with their friends who also purchased plots there to ” enjoy the view together” for Eternity.
    While my parents were still living, I know my Dad often went to clean up & repair the headstones which were
    sinking over time.
    I applaud your dedication to this project & sincerely hope that eventually a generous benefactor may come
    forward to provide financial support to resurrect and fulfill the hopes & dreams of what my grandparents
    (and all those buried there) envisioned when they invested in Memory Gardens.
    Sincerely,
    Paula ( Smith) Rice
    San Jose, CA

  6. Thank you, Gary Wyatt, for doing this. So many of the Valley’s early residents are buried at Memory Gardens, my great-grandparents and grandparents included. My mom wants to be buried by there, and I’ve often thought that, if the Lord should tarry, I might want to do the same thing. Keep up the good work.

  7. I too want to send Thanks to Gary and his extended family for all the work they have done and continue to do. My paternal grandparents are buried there, as well, and it saddens my heart every time I come to the valley and see the state it is in…

  8. Thank you Gary and your family, and many others that have taken their time and cleaned up the cemetery, that have donated flowers to try and make this cemetery not for gotten! I remember in my younger days many of my friends had families that were laid to rest not knowing what it would become down the road. It’s to bad we can not force this company that owns this cemetery to bring it up to date, their should be a law against this kind of care taking.Please feel free to call me I would like to help with what I can and I’am sure other would help too. Sharon Edwards Imperial Resident

  9. It’s great to hear someone caring about this cemetery. I send him the best of luck and encourage others to do what they can! I have great grandparents buried out there and I’d love to see that cemetery turned around for the better.

Comments are closed.