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Touchdowns and Tombstones: Ripon’s Hallowed Ground Becomes a Parking Lot?

In the charming town of Ripon, Wisconsin, where cows might just outnumber residents, an unlikely scene is unfolding at the base of the historic Hillside Cemetery in the Garden of the Cross, that holds the remains of pioneers, war heroes, and community figures who helped shape the city and a nation’s destiny. That is the final resting place and hallowed ground where pioneers and patriots find eternal rest, it has become the stage for a drama that defies logic and leaves the community flabbergasted.

**Buried in Bureaucracy: The Perplexing Agreement**

Prepare for a facepalm moment, because we’re about to dive into an agreement so mind-boggling that it could only happen in the Twilight Zone of small-town politics. The City of Ripon decided it was a brilliant idea to grant Ripon College exclusive rights to an unused cemetery plot adjacent to the shiny new Hopp Stadium. But here’s the catch – this “exclusive use” involves turning the cemetery into a parking lot on game days. Yes, you heard that right. It’s a parking lot on sacred ground, and it has left the community scratching their heads and asking, “What were they thinking?”

**Community Outrage: Protecting the Final Resting Place**

Prepare to be shocked, folks, because a community member with family buried in Garden of the Cross Cemetery, who has got skin in the game, is crying foul. And they’re saying loud and clear that this agreement isn’t just odd; it’s flat-out illegal and outrageously disrespectful. It seems that any cemetery should be a place of rest, not a college game-day parking extravaganza.

Amid the uproar surrounding this agreement between Ripon College and the City of Ripon, which allows the use of a portion of the cemetery for parking during college football, an important aspect has come to light.

**Legal Quandaries: Is the Agreement in Violation?**

If the agreement allows for practices that contradict Wisconsin regulations, it could be in violation of the law.  Hidden within the legal statutes of Wisconsin is a provision that appears to mandate the involvement of the Cemetery Board in decisions related to cemetery land. It further appears that this crucial role casts the Cemetery Board as the guardian of the town’s sacred resting place. The statute is meticulous in its instructions, ensuring that the sanctity of the cemetery and purpose is preserved.

Wisconsin Statute 157.061 outlines the procedures and requirements for selling or encumbering cemetery land in the state.

“Before a cemetery authority sells or encumbers any cemetery land, except for a sale described in par. (a), the cemetery authority shall notify the cemetery board in writing of the proposed sale or encumbrance. If within 90 days after the cemetery board is notified of the proposed sale or encumbrance the cemetery board notifies the cemetery authority in writing that the cemetery board objects to the sale or encumbrance the cemetery authority may not sell or encumber the cemetery land unless the cemetery board subsequently notifies the cemetery authority in writing that the objection is withdrawn. The cemetery board may object to a sale or encumbrance only if it determines that the cemetery authority will not be financially solvent or that the rights and interests of owners of cemetery lots and mausoleum spaces will not be adequately protected if the sale or encumbrance occurs. The cemetery board may, before the expiration of the 90-day period, notify the cemetery authority in writing that the cemetery board approves of the sale or encumbrance. Upon receipt of the cemetery board’s written approval, the cemetery authority may sell or encumber the cemetery land and is released of any liability under this paragraph. The cemetery board shall make every effort to make determinations under this paragraph in an expeditious manner.”

“Encumbering cemetery land” typically refers to placing a legal or financial burden, restriction, or claim on the cemetery land, which may affect its use, sale, or ownership.

The specific statute underscores that before a cemetery authority sells or encumbers any cemetery land, it must notify the Cemetery Board in writing. The statute further elaborates that if the Cemetery Board objects to the sale or encumbrance within 90 days, the cemetery authority cannot proceed with the transaction unless the objection is later withdrawn. The statute allows the Cemetery Board to object to a sale or encumbrance if it determines that the cemetery authority may not remain financially solvent or that the rights and interests of cemetery lot and mausoleum space owners will not be adequately protected.

**The Unearthed Questions**

With this legal backdrop, a few additional questions do arise. Did the agreement between Ripon College and the City of Ripon comply with the statute’s mandate for involvement of the Cemetery Board in decisions regarding cemetery land? Did the Cemetery Board play its role as guardian of the sacred resting place, or was it bypassed in this significant and extremely rushed poor decision? Did any other local or state violations occur?  

It is important to note that additionally the statute also makes it clear that any individual or entity intending to create a public easement (such as a highway, town way, or any public access route) over, through, in, or upon any part of an enclosure used for burial, which is the property of a municipality, religious association, or private proprietor, must do so with the proper legal authority. Any Violation of this provision can lead to criminal penalties, including imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year and a fine of up to $3,000.

Again it appears obvious that the state statute is designed to protect the sanctity and integrity of burial grounds and cemeteries by ensuring that any construction or opening of public easements over such areas is conducted with the appropriate legal authorization. It emphasizes the seriousness of such actions or the potential consequences for violations.

**Advocating for Preservation**

The community member who has raised these questions and complaints is a family member of individuals interred in Garden of the Cross Cemetery and will eventually be laid to rest there, has filed a formal complaint with Wisconsin DSPS. This longtime Ripon resident will join us for our live radio show, airing on Ripon Common Sense Radio this Friday Oct 27th at 9PM Central. They are deeply concerned about the implications of the agreement and the potential for it to infringe upon the cemetery’s sanctity. This community member believes that the agreement lacks transparency and contravenes the principles of respect and reverence for those laid to rest in the cemetery, and needs to stop immediately. We agree.  If it can happen in Ripon, it can happen anywhere.

**Join the Discussion**

Tune in to this special radio show, where we delve deeper into this unfolding saga. We’ll explore the allegations of legal implications of the cemetery easement statute, the community’s concerns, and the role of the Cemetery Board as the guardian of Ripon’s sacred resting places.

Date: OCTOBER 27th 2023



Update to the Article: “Touchdowns and Tombstones: Ripon’s Hallowed Ground Becomes a Parking Lot?”

Our ongoing coverage of the Garden of the Cross Cemetery Agreement controversy has uncovered yet another layer of complexity that demands public attention. It’s come to our attention that the City of Ripon, Wisconsin, approved the agreement with Ripon College during a specially called council meeting, conveniently scheduled just three days before the first game at the new Hopp Stadium. This revelation raises additional concerns about the process and priorities in our community.

In Ripon, regular council meetings are a predictable occurrence, adhering to a fixed schedule: the 2nd Tuesday and the 4th Monday of each month. This consistent routine ensures community members have the opportunity to engage, express their concerns, and actively participate in local decision-making. However, the approval of the cemetery agreement took place outside of these established meetings, during a specially called session. (See special agenda and actual college agreement below)


What’s even more concerning is the lack of community representation at this special meeting. It’s a stark reminder of how the City of Ripon appeared willing to prioritize private interests over the voices and concerns of our community.

In an interesting twist to this narrative, it has come to light that Adam Sonntag, the City Administrator, is an alumnus of Ripon College. While his personal background is not inherently problematic, some community members have raised questions about whether his affiliation with the college has influenced his decisions and actions. They suggest that, in certain instances, he may have appeared to work more diligently for his alma mater than for the city he represents.

This revelation deepens the conversation surrounding the agreement, highlighting the importance of transparency, open communication, and community engagement in local decision-making. It’s a call for accountability and a reminder that the decisions made by our local authorities should always be in the best interest of the community they serve.

As we continue to monitor this matter, we’ll keep you informed about any developments, discussions, and actions taken by the community and local authorities. It’s a story that speaks to the heart of Ripon’s values and the importance of preserving the sanctity of our cherished City Cemeteries.

What do you think?

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