A Minnesota city that owns a Mitchell area cemetery is 'optimistic as ever' in selling it to area residents

The Minnesota city took ownership of the cemetery as a form of collateral due to the previous owner defaulting on a loan he had with Sleep Eye, and officials have sought to sell it since.

Shown here is the sign of Sunset Memorial Park cemetery that sits at the entrance on Monday, April 3, 2023, in Mitchell.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Over the past six years, a Minnesota city has owned a small cemetery on the edge of Mitchell that’s over 200 miles away.

But that could soon change, as a group of Mitchell area residents with late loved ones buried at the Sunset Memorial Park cemetery along Highway 37 have expressed interest in buying it from the city of Sleepy Eye.

Considering the Minnesota town had no intentions of owning the cemetery that’s located within less than a mile south of Mitchell, Sleepy Eye city officials are eager to sell the property to a group of people living nearby who can provide the type of care it needs and deserves.

“We are wholeheartedly for this happening. It’s just become a real challenge for us — obviously due to the distance — to oversee this and give it the proper maintenance and attention it needs,” said Kurk Kramer, the leader of Sleepy Eye’s Economic Development Authority (EDA). “We’re the only EDA in the United States to own a cemetery."

The Minnesota city took ownership of the 7-acre cemetery as a form of collateral due to the previous owner defaulting on a loan he was supposed to pay back to Sleep Eye’s Economic Development Authority. The former owner, Elwin Schubbe, was a Minnesota resident who used the cemetery as collateral for a business plan that didn’t pan out. Schubbe died in 2018.


A ledger stone surrounded with flowers and trinkets sits at Sunset Memorial Park cemetery on Monday, April 3, 2023, in Mitchell.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

“It was privately owned, and the owner had an entrepreneurial sense about him. He purchased a ballroom and bar and restaurant here that was called the Orchid Inn, and part of the agreement was collateral was the cemetery property. We never thought this would be something we would end up having,” Kramer said.

Kramer said the city was actively seeking to sell the cemetery when Sleepy Eye’s Economic Development Authority became the owner of it. However, the attempts to sell it never materialized. Kramer said the cemetery was offered up to the city of Mitchell and Davison County, but both local governments at the time indicated to Kramer they were not interested. Property records show the cemetery is located in Davison County, not the city.

“We had a purchase agreement about five years ago with a local business, but then a family member became ill and they longer had an interest. I’ve made phone calls to churches and funeral homes in the Mitchell area and about anyone I think of in the Mitchell area inquiring about the cemetery,” Kramer said.

It’s unclear how the late Minnesota man became the owner of the Mitchell area cemetery and how long he had it prior to the city of Sleepy Eye taking possession of it. Records show the first burial site at Sunset Memorial Park was dug in 1956. Most of the deceased who were buried at the cemetery were from Mitchell and the small surrounding area towns.

“We have really put everything on hold right now as we try to get this transition to take place. We actually have a couple people waiting,” Kramer said of the complicated burial process.

Local couple sparks talks of buying cemetery

With no signs of interested buyers in recent years, things changed when Mike and Pam Bathke came into the mix.

After the Mitchell couple purchased a neighboring property to the cemetery, the former Peace Lights location, and learned of its perplexing history of ownership, Pam began reaching out to surviving family members who have late loved ones buried there to gauge their interest in buying it.

“It’s really sad that there is a cemetery with approximately 400 people buried in it, and there isn’t proper oversight,” Pam said. “I think this situation has been under the radar for a really long time, but it’s great to see people coming together to address this unique situation.”


As more area residents showed interest in the cemetery, they formed an association to get more aggressive about exploring the possibility of acquiring the cemetery. Although the Bathkes don't have any late loved ones buried at Sunset Memorial Park, the couple says they are committed to being "good neighbors," which has also motivated them to bring Sleepy Eye's EDA leader and area locals together in hopes of charting a new path forward for the cemetery.

Kramer trekked to Mitchell in March to meet with the group, which is made up of about 20 members.

At the March meeting, Pam said the group of area residents who are interested in acquiring the cemetery have been exploring overhead costs and the type of maintenance equipment needed to maintain the cemetery. A second meeting between the group and Sleepy Eye officials is scheduled for later this month.

Kramer left the meeting with optimism.

“I was really pleased when I walked away because it really seemed like there was some interest there,” Kramer said.

Although the cemetery is small with around 430 memorial sites, it requires steady maintenance. Traveling 200 miles on a regular basis to provide year-round maintenance isn’t feasible for Sleepy Eye officials.

The city contracts a local company, Hohn Lawn Care, to upkeep the cemetery throughout the year.

The cemetery could produce minimal revenue to help offset maintenance costs. However, a perpetual care fund would need to be established for Sunset Memorial Park, which would allocate a portion of the revenue from grave site revenue for maintenance costs. The city of Sleepy Eye has informed the group on interested buyers that it would fund the perpetual care fund.


"The only revenue source is if you fill a grave site. In a perpetual care cemetery, a portion of the revenue would have to go toward the perpetual care fund," Pam said. "This cemetery is unique in that there is no perpetual care fund, and nobody seems to know why that is or if there was one at one point."

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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