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Family furious after bench, flowers, removed from grave of well-known local restaurant owner

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 7:30 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The family of well-known Waco restaurant owner “Mama Baris, " who died last year, is furious with Oakwood Cemetery, claiming the staff removed a bench and flowers from her gravesite.

The Baris family is not alone.

Several other families told KWTX their loved ones’ graves were desecrated by the very people responsible for protecting the final resting places and they blame management at the cemetery.

Mary Imeri died last year after a battle with cancer.

Her husband frequently visits the gravesite, her son, Jimmy Imeri, said.

“My father comes out all the time, but he has an aneurysm in his stomach. He has weak legs, he can’t stand for long,” Imeri said.

Mama Baris’ family said because of the pandemic, her head stone would not be available for months, so they decided to put benches at the gravesite and plant some flowers to beautify the space.

But one day, the bench and flowers disappeared.

“My father called me and he’s like, ‘Jimmy, somebody stole your mother’s benches.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ and he says, ‘The benches are gone,’” Imeri recalled.

Without a phonecall to the family, the cemetery removed the benches and put them in storage and uprooted the flowers. They say it’s an enforcement of their policy that bans most decorations, including planted flowers and benches in many cases.

“In order to have a bench, you’ve got to own four consecutive pieces of property,” said Oakwood Cemetery Manager Clint Lynch.

Family members say they bought 12 plots, but Lynch said they still don’t qualify to have benches because they have not completed payments for the lots.

“That’s what it is. You’ve got to own them,” Lynch said.

Imeri shared his frustration on social media and dozens of others came out with similar stories. They say the policy is not being applied fairly.

Most of those who have publicly shared similar stories are Hispanic.

A representative of LULAC was at the cemetery Thursday examine to the issue and ensure that Hispanic people were not being unfairly targeted by the implementation of the policy.

“When you look around, there are planted trees, full graves with flowers in the grave,” Imeri said.

Wednesday KWTX reporter Rosemond Crown spotted dozens of gravesites with planted flowers and other prohibited memorabilia.

Lynch said staff members are working through a process to get all the gravesites under compliance, although couldn’t explain how they are selecting which gravesites to clear out first.

Mama Baris’ family say although it violates their beliefs they are considering removing her body from the cemetery.

The Oakwood Cemetery is owned by the City of Waco but the city could not be reached for a comment Thursday.

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