Roseville resident cares for historical cemetery after no one else will

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 2, 2018

 The Erin Grove Cemetery contains gravestones dating back to the 1700s, yet no one has officially cared for the graveyard since the previous owners all died. Roseville resident Mike Rice has stepped in to ensure the historic cemetery is maintained.

The Erin Grove Cemetery contains gravestones dating back to the 1700s, yet no one has officially cared for the graveyard since the previous owners all died. Roseville resident Mike Rice has stepped in to ensure the historic cemetery is maintained.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Mike Rice kneels in front of the grave of his parents, William and Ruth Rice, who are interred at the Erin Grove Cemetery in Roseville. Rice has cared for the cemetery out of his own pocket for 25 years.

Mike Rice kneels in front of the grave of his parents, William and Ruth Rice, who are interred at the Erin Grove Cemetery in Roseville. Rice has cared for the cemetery out of his own pocket for 25 years.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

ROSEVILLE — The Erin Grove Cemetery in Roseville is one of the community’s oldest resting places, with graves dating back to the 1700s.

Yet after its long history, no one seems to want to claim ownership or responsibility for the historical cemetery, save for one man.

Mike Rice has worn many hats during his life — newspaper deliverer, gas station owner, beer sales representative — and yet one thing has remained constant: his desire to be independent and be his own boss. It was this drive that caused him to step up and care for a place no one else would.

“I’ve had this job for 25 years,” said Rice. “When I took it over, the grass was 2 to 3 feet higher than the fence. I started out just maintaining the grounds. I cooked two or three riding lawn mowers on it. People started calling to arrange burials so I started talking with some friends who worked at a funeral home. … It’s a lot of work with no thank-yous.”

Yet some people have started to notice, neighbors who — like Rice — have family members interred at Erin Grove. Gail Cable met Rice when she attended a burial service at the cemetery. While making arrangements for the burial, she met him and discovered everything he’s been doing.

“Mike has been acting as an unpaid caretaker of this cemetary for a number of years, since he noticed the cemetery falling into disrepair while visiting family graves; Mike said that he was told that the owner(s) of the cemetery were bankrupt. Mike said that he is at the cemetary daily and does general cleanup, repairs, grass cutting, tree trimming, etc., at his own cost.”

The cemetery is technically still owned by the Erin Grove Cemetery Trust; however, all members of the trust are now deceased, and no one is now managing that trust. All burial arrangements at the site now go directly through Rice.

Rice got some advice from some neighbors with experience in maintaining a cemetery.

“In the infancy of me taking over the cemetery, I worked with the people who ran the nearby Jewish cemetery. They kind of walked me through the basics of running a cemetery,” Rice said. “They told me how much in advance there should be a hole there for a burial, how to work with funeral homes and so much more.”

Rice has stepped up to maintain the grounds, repair facilities that were falling apart and confront the numerous issues that can arise in keeping the site a place of respect. He said trespassers and litter have been particular problems.

He said there used to be a problem with a business in the area, with people tossing bottles over the fence, Rice recalled. 

“I tried to convince them to put a stop to it, and they said it wasn’t their problem, and then I started to throw the bottles back over into their parking lot, and they said I couldn’t do that, and I told them they couldn’t throw the bottles over into my cemetary, and that was the end of that problem.”

Part of the fence along the perimeter of the cemetery was knocked down, and the site is in immediate need of drainage work in an area where the graves are underwater in the spring from the rain. Rice said he has done his best to maintain the grounds — work that was better than anyone could ask for, said Cable — but he is only one man.

“We’ve had donations from people with families who have relatives in there over the years,” Rice said. “One time I bought my own tools to do some work there, and then I went on vacation with my wife to Canada, and when we came back, the tools were all gone. Someone cut a hole right through the roof.”

In addition to trying to fix the grounds, Rice is working on obtaining some crucial historical documents regarding some of those buried at Erin Grove. Even this effort has been complicated by the confusing nature of no one claiming ownership of the site. 

“Nobody owns the cemetery. It’s private land. It dates back to the 1700s and it’s one of the oldest cemeteries in Michigan,” Rice explained. “It used to belong to Erin Presbyterian Church before it shut down. There are records in that church for the cemetary, and I would like to get them out of there before the building gets torn down.”

Cable said she wants to get the word out about Rice so he will no longer have to go about his efforts alone.

“This type of dedication is so rare,” Cable remarked. “I wanted to bring this to someone’s attention and, hopefully, get Mike some help with these repairs.”

Rice said he would be happy to have help maintaining the grounds, but what he cares most about is that people not forget about Erin Grove. He said it’s too important to allow to deteriorate.

“My ancestors are buried in there, and I thought the state of the grounds were a disgrace,” he said. “People were not burying people in there because no one was taking care of it. I asked around who was in charge and no one wanted to claim responsibility. … It’s a job that no one else wants to do, and I’m in my 70s and I’m not going to live forever.”