At colleges, alums ask for campus burial plot

Jessica Gdowski

Some college graduates still cheer for their alma mater’s football team. Some keep in touch with roommates from their college days. And now some alumni are purchasing burial plots and internment niches on their college campuses.

Schools including the University of Richmond and the University of Virginia are among those that have spent millions of dollars constructing cemeteries and columbariums.

“The original intent of the cemetery was for faculty and staff,” said Dr. Dearing Johns, associate professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia. “We left it open to everyone, but it was not predominantly built with students in mind.”

She also holds a volunteer position as chairwoman of the university’s cemetery committee.

At the University of Richmond, the intention was “to reach out to those university family members who had defining moments on campus and see the university as a place for eternal rest,” Associate Vice President Ron Inlow wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.

The burial plots, priced from $2,300 to $5,500, are not university fund raisers.

“We tried to price the niches or vaults at a level where we could build as we needed to expand,” Johns said.

At the University of Virginia cemetery, all the plots have been sold, Johns said. The 180 vault columbarium was built on campus in 1991, and has the capacity to house four urns per vault. To date, 140 vaults have been purchased, and the university currently is undertaking the construction of a second columbarium.

Northwestern presently claims more than 160,000 alumni — a sizable market for such a venture. But only one caller has contacted the university regarding the eventual internment of his mother’s cremated remains, said Allyson Mauck, program assistant at the NU Alumni Association. Currently, the only way to memorialize an NU alum is with a planted tree or with a plaque, she said.

This request was passed from the Alumni office to Facilities Management, where “she was probably politely turned down,” said Chuck Loebbaka, a university spokesman.

Although the interest in such services blossoms elsewhere, NU’s prospect seems slim.

“(It) would never happen at this school,” said Ron Adams, an Education junior. “No one likes this school enough.”

Multiple students voiced other concerns, such as ties to hometowns and the morbid nature of such a monument.

“You come here starting something new. It’s kind of like the end of the spectrum to be buried here,” said Eric Secemsky, a Weinberg sophomore. “It’s like the maternity ward having a memorial wall. There are other ways of honoring someone’s expiration.”

Johns said students at the University of Virginia use the area surrounding the columbarium for picnics and studying.

There has been no indication NU will attempt such an endeavor.

“I haven’t heard it discussed or proposed or anything like that,” Loebbaka said.