Where is the dignity and integrity in the death and burial business?
“I’m in it for the people, to help them with closure.” —Gina Hankerson
“I got my own monument company and monument sales agent license and became the sole proprietor and then incorporated Angelic Monument. While searching the Internet, I learned that a lot of granite comes from other countries even though there are a few granite quarries in the U.S., but even they buy from outside the country. Finally, I came upon a monument vendor where I learned CAD (Computer Aided Design) program to draw the actual monument to cemetery and client specifications,” stated Hankerson.
By Starla Vaughns Cherin
(Part II in a IV Part Series)
The customer is always right but not at Sunset Memorial Gardens. When Carlton Dixon and three other clients ordered their photographic memorial headstones from Angelic Monument, they were happy with them, for having an entire headstone, a photograph of a loved one is unique.
As in other cemeteries, Carriage Services at Sunset Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Fort Lauderdale, require headstones and monuments meet specifications for a uniform look. And though Dixon and other monument met the specified measurements, Carriage Services denied them the installation.
Angelic Monument owner Gina Hankerson previously had installed these type markers at Sunset. When she attended a meeting of the City of Fort Lauderdale Board of Cemetery Trustees, she was surprised she was the only monument business targeted by Carriage Services that manages the cemetery for the City.
Apparently, from the minutes of the March 2012 meeting of the Fort Lauderdale Cemetery Board of Trustees, the bronze monuments met the metal content specifications that the Board approved, but Carriage Services representatives were against the style of the monument. They felt the photographs on the monuments will fade within 15 years, and that families may assume the cemetery is responsible for returning the monument to its original state, under perpetual care.
Yet, according to the State of Florida’s funeral cemetery consumer facts, no person authorized to sell grave space nor cemetery company may refuse to provide care or maintenance for any portion of a gravesite on which a monument has been placed; or waive liability with respect to damage caused by cemetery employees or agents to a monument after installation.
“No cemetery company may be held liable for the improper installation of a monument where the monument is not in-stalled by the cemetery company or its agents.”
Several members of the board motioned to have monument installers provide a presentation of the markers but later the motions were withdrawn.
Hankerson asked the board to prove the markers will fade and stated, in addition to the photos on the monuments, the lettering on them was etched and raised, and will remain in perpetuity.
According to the minutes, “Ms. Hankerson said the families were grieving, but they were still capable of making a decision.”
“Ms. Hankerson asked, who would tell the families to whom she had already sold these markers that they were not permitted. She said she had three customers that had ordered these and were awaiting proofs.”
“Ms. Hankerson was instructed that per the rules and regulations, the protocol for resolving an issue, Cemetery Manager, City Department, City Manager, Cemetery Board, and, the City Commission.”
“Ms. Hankerson said this product had been installed at Bailey Cemetery, Vista Memorial Gardens in Miami, Forest Lawn Central, and Sunset Memorial, as well as others. She stated no cemetery had denied her application for this type of monument.”
“Mr. Banas (Carriage Services) said he would not approve any future applications for this type of marker because they didn’t conform to the rules and regulations.”
Later, when Hankerson inquired via email to a Carriage Services staff member about the manufacturer of the monuments similar to hers already installed at Sunset, she was told, they can’t provide the information. Also, she noted that she noticed the photo markers sold by Carriage Services costs substantially more than those she provided.
At the next Fort Lauderdale Cemetery Board meeting, a board member asked about the status of the bronze markers and was told, “that it was not that the manufacturer was not approved, but rather the line of product that was not approved.”
Working for the City of Fort Lauderdale, Hankerson yearned for a business of her own; She wanted to do something to service people. On one of the regular visits to her grand-mother’s grave, she cleaned the area and the headstone. One of the employees said that’s a service many people need.
Hankerson said, “I remembered when we were little during the spring my grandmother packed us into the station wagon with lunch, flowers, and planting utensils, and we went to the cemetery to spruce up our family member’s graves.”
“I thought,” she added, “this seems like a service I could pro-vide. I didn’t know anything about it, so I did my research and started going to industry conventions. I was Online forever looking for the granite for the headstones. I found everything was a foreign language to me.”
“I continued the cleaning and I made up signs for headstone cleaning with my name and number on a stick near cemeteries. I found that no one knew what perpetual care was and that it didn’t include more than cutting grass. They will also realign a head stone.”
“I advertised in community newspapers. A family had three markers that were dirty; I cleaned and refurbished them to bring the gold tone back. Sometimes they were beyond cleaning and had to be repainted and re-polished.”
Women in industry.
Since the 1990’s. there are more female CEOs in the bereavement care industry. The organization 100 Black Women of Funeral Service started in 1993 to help members of minority groups enter the mortuary field.
In 1976, there were 343 women and 2,210 men enrolled in funeral schools in the U.S., according to the American Board of Funeral Service Education, which accredits the schools. By 2000, women edged out men, 1,199 to 1,169, and the gap has kept growing. Last year, there were 1,605 women enrolled, compared with 1,219 men.
More women own funeral homes, up from five percent in 1998, to about 14 percent according to a survey by the National Funeral Directors Association in January 2012.
While cleaning the monuments Hankerson expanded her business to provide the monuments. She started by seeking a sales job at monument companies. Finally, she found O.T. Davis Monument Co. in Gainesville, and she signed to sell for them here in South Florida.
“I learned you needed a license in the State of Florida so you had to work under a monument company,” Hankerson said. Then I thought, this is like a job I’m working for someone all over again. I wanted to figure out how to do this myself.
“I got my own monument company and monument sales agent license and became the sole proprietor and then incorporated Angelic Monument. While searching the Internet, I learned that a lot of granite comes from other countries even though there are a few granite quarries in the U.S., but even they buy from outside the country. Finally, I came upon a monument vendor where I learned CAD (Computer Aided Design) program to draw the actual monument to cemetery and client specifications.
“I figured out what I needed to make this happen. I didn’t want to start at home. I wanted to be personal with the family, for them to meet me, and see and touch. I wanted them to feel comfortable.”
Hankerson gives tips for business: “Know your product, service is second to none, and the most I have to offer are my services and my word. That is what I learned from my grandmother. Her life lived our heritage; the family heritage by trusting in the Lord. She took generations and showed us what family legacy and the love of God is all about.
“There is nothing new under the sun it’s what makes you different,” she said. Angelic Monument is currently offering Grief Counseling services and Angel Bereavement Concierge Services.
“I’m in it for the people, to help them with closure. It doesn’t matter how big the sale, it’s about honoring your loved one and having peace as we carry on without them, because we at Angelic care about the total you.”