St. Petersburg Florida Leads Nation, Skyrocketing Cremation

March 25, 2010
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imageWhy the increased interest in cremation? Several reasons, experts say: convenience, creativity, cost, comfort. Florida leads these trends nationally with 55 percent of deaths were cremated and 70 percent in St. Petersburg. It is a tidal-wave movement within the memorial industry.

When Jana Kivland of South Tampa was widowed four years ago, she had husband Gerry’s body cremated, as they planned. Then she faced the question: What to do with his ashes?

“We had some of the ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico, off Sand Key,” Mrs. Kivland said, “and then I flew back to Seattle, where we had lived for 20 years, and had more ashes scattered there,” off Marrowstone Island, a place the couple had loved.

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But that still left most of her husband’s cremains. “I went to cemeteries around Pinellas County, trying to like the idea of having a stone in a cemetery with a marker, but I just couldn’t warm up to it,” she said.

Then she saw a newspaper story about plans to turn the former First Baptist Church sanctuary in downtown St. Petersburg into a columbarium called the City Peace Garden. Urns containing cremated remains will be placed in niches in the walls of a gated garden or inside the sanctuary, a city historic landmark built in 1924.

“It was just what I was looking for,” said Mrs. Kivland, 66. “We both loved gardens, and my husband loved working in the garden, and that’s where his ashes will be placed” ? in a niche in the garden with a fountain, labyrinth and beautiful landscaping.

Jana Kivland’s choices ? cremation and placement of the ashes in a columbarium ? are in line with a growing national trend. Currently 39 percent of deaths in the U.S. result in cremation, a number that is expected to rise to 57 percent by 2025, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

Why the increased interest in cremation? Several reasons, experts say: In today’s mobile society there may be few ties to a home town or a traditional family burial plot, and with families widely dispersed, there may be no one left to tend a grave. In a popular retirement area like the West Coast of Florida, McQueen said, “people lived most of their working life somewhere else. When they die, they want to have an event to celebrate the life, but the significance of burying the body in a certain place isn’t a paramount part of the decision any more.”

Last year in Florida, 55 percent of deaths were cremated, almost twice the rate of the Midwest and rest of the Southeast. In St. Petersburg, cremation demand is even higher than national statistics indicate. Seventy percent of deaths here result in cremation. “It’s a tidal-wave movement within our industry,” said McQueen, who reported that 82 percent of his customers who make their funeral plans in advance choose cremation.

“What we are seeing is that cremation is a very acceptable form of dealing with the death of a loved one,” said Sheree Graves, executive director of Cathedral Columbaria Inc., which operates the City Peace Garden. “Our families say they like the idea of making their plans now, of knowing that they will be placed in a unique location that is meaningful to them and easy for their loved ones to visit. It’s all about convenience, cost and comfort.”

The City Peace Garden will be the largest all-faiths columbarium in the Tampa Bay area exclusively devoted to cremation memorials. It is currently under construction at 120 Fourth St. N in downtown St. Petersburg, oppo

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