Honoring those who have gone before

When Vernon Wynn looks across U.S. 41, he can see the final resting place of dozens of his relatives.

They’re among the roughly 1,600 people buried in Lutz Cemetery, at the corner of U.S. 41 and Fifth Ave., N .E.

The cemetery was established in 1911, and the first person buried there is known only as Mr. Nims, according to local historians. His grave marker is gone, but he is believed to have been buried there in 1914.

A scene from the Lutz Cemetery, as mist rises on a recent early morning. (B.C. Manion)

The plot of land offers a look into the community’s past, with generations of families buried there, and hundreds of veterans, too.

Some grave markers offer a spiritual message: “The Lord is my shepherd,” and “Thy will be done” and, “Every day is a gift from God. Share it with someone else.”

Another states simply: “Gone, but not forgotten.”

Some laid to rest there are widely known throughout Lutz.

Oscar Cooler, for instance, was a champion for youth sports, and there’s a sports complex named for him on Lutz Lake Fern Road.

Carolyn Meeker, former president of the Lutz Civic Association, is buried there, too. She was tenacious at Hillsborough County zoning hearings, taking on anyone who threatened to change the character of Lutz.

Ralph Combs, the very first Eagle Scout from Troop 12, is laid to rest there, too, Wynn said.

Wynn, who is president of the Lutz Cemetery Association, has deep roots in Lutz.

“My grandparents came here in 1920,” he said. “Where I live now, is where I was born and raised.”

Kathy Vanater, Vernon Wynn and Bob Jackson are officers in the Lutz Cemetery Association. They’re working to ensure the upkeep of the cemetery, where an estimated 1,600 are buried.

And, it’s because of that affinity for the community that Wynn decided to take an active role in the cemetery association.

The group wants to ensure that the grounds are well-kept, into perpetuity.

Wynn said their aim is: “To make sure that everything is going to be good for the community.”

“It’s paying respect to the people buried there,” said Kathy Vanater, the cemetery association’s secretary/treasurer.

Land for the cemetery was donated to the community, more than a century ago, by C.E. Thomas, who was president of the North Tampa Land Company, according to accounts published in The Tampa Tribune and other local publications.

The company was made up of a group of Chicago landowners who bought about 32,000 acres, north of the city of Tampa.

The original cemetery plot was 230 feet by 80 feet, according to “Citrus, Sawmills, Critters, Crackers …,” a local history book by Elizabeth Riegler MacManus and her daughter, Susan A. MacManus.

Over time, the cemetery has expanded.

“The folks in the community used to take care of the grounds,” Vanater said.

Volunteers gather in 1911 to clear land for the Lutz Cemetery. (Credit: ‘Going, Going, Almost Gone … Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Pioneers Share Their Precious Memories’)

Indeed, according to the MacManus book, when area residents gathered to clean up the cemetery, men would come with hoses and rakes, and women would pack a picnic lunch.

But, by the mid-1950s, the volunteer cleanups had dwindled.

“So, the Lutz Cemetery Association formed in 1956,” Vanater said.

For decades, the organization was low-key.

In recent years, though, a more active group of volunteers has stepped up — completing needed repairs, maintaining the grounds and making plans for its future upkeep.

Dead trees have been removed. The utility shed has a new roof. A replica of the original archway has been erected, and there’s now a cemetery sign.

Over the years, most of the cemetery plots have been sold, said Vanater, a banker, by profession. But, when those plots were sold, the sales weren’t accompanied by perpetual maintenance plans, and now there are just about 75 plots remaining, she said.

So, Vanater said, “we’re trying to keep an income to be able to maintain the grounds.”

To that end, Bob Jackson, the association’s vice president for administration, spent months researching the idea of purchasing a columbarium — which contains niches for urns containing cremains.

Like Wynn, Jackson feels a personal connection to the traditional burial place in Lutz.

“I’m fourth generation. My grandparents are in that cemetery,” Jackson said.

After months of research, he found a company in Canada that produces the kind of columbarium the association found suitable for the cemetery.

The first columbarium was installed at the cemetery in July. It has 64 niches, which can hold two urns each.

The cemetery has plenty of space to erect additional columbariums, depending on the demand.

Besides providing a source of revenue for the cemetery, the columbarium provides additional capacity to serve people who want Lutz to be their final resting place, said Vanater, who joined the volunteer association at the request of a friend, and expected to pitch in for a year. That was nine years ago.

The association, Wynn said, just wants to keep the community’s cemetery alive.

Lutz Cemetery Association Board Members
Vernon Wynn, president
Bob Jackson, vice president
Mary Lewis, vice president
Kathy Vanater, secretary/treasurer
Judi Wynn
Terry Donovan
John Hodges
Tim Goins

Columbariums
For those interested in having Lutz as their final resting place, there’s another option available.

The Lutz Cemetery Association has added a columbarium that has 64 niches. Each niche can hold two urns each.

The new option provides a source of revenue needed to continue the upkeep of the cemetery grounds, and also expands the capacity of the cemetery to accommodate more people who wish for it to be their final resting place.

Each of the niches in the columbarium holds up to two urns, with the cost for the niches ranging from $1,200 to $1,500, depending on the niche’s location in the columbarium.

Anyone who wishes to purchase a niche should contact Bob Jackson, (813) 928-9412 or Vern Wynn, at (813) 293-0263.

Published December 11, 2019

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