July 2010

SIX OAKS CEMETERY - The Future Is Certain. Have You Made Plans?

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Photography by Anne

If you die today, do you know where you’re going? We’re not talking heaven or the happy hunting ground. Your soul’s eternal destination is entirely personal. But let’s face it: Somebody’s going to have to deal with your mortal remains. Have you made plans, or are you procrastinating at the risk of forfeiting the chance to have it your way?

While death is not a pleasant subject, it’s the one event (other than your annual contribution to Uncle Sam) that you can count on. The question is not if, but when.

According to John Hunter, administrator of Six Oaks Cemetery (Hilton Head Island’s only public cemetery), in America’s early history, after building or buying a house, young couples typically arranged for a burial site, usually to accommodate 6 to 12 family members. But after WWII, as people became more highly mobile, traditions began to change.

A Gallup poll conducted in the 1990s indicated that slightly over 50 percent of Americans had never made a will and slightly over 50 percent had not made final arrangements. In a follow-up survey of male heads of household, 85 percent responded in the following way: “I don’t care what they do with me; they can throw me in a ditch.”

“That’s just denial,” said Hunter pointing out that those left behind would certainly care. “A lot of families take the attitude that nobody’s sick and nobody’s dead, so why bother?” he said. But that is faulty logic.

“When a loved one dies, your family has to make more than 100 decisions, many requiring immediate payment,” said Hunter, adding that families under pressure tend to overspend and later second-guess their choices.

“It doesn’t matter if you live to be 100, you never know when you’re going to go,” he continued, encouraging families to make final arrangements before the need arises. “By doing it in advance, you can be a lot more objective about it, and it takes the burden off of the family.”

If touring Six Oaks Cemetery is not high on your bucket list, you may miss one of Hilton Head Island’s loveliest and most fascinating attractions as well as an opportunity to make this gorgeous site your final resting place.

More majestic than morbid, Six Oaks Cemetery is a lush park, steeped in history and artfully developed with the same pride and vision for which Sea Pines founder, Charles Fraser, gained world renown.

“Most modern cemeteries are lawn cemeteries. They cut down all of the trees and just line everybody up row-to-row,” said Hunter. But Fraser envisioned a piece of property that was more like a garden or a park, opting to keep all the trees, he explained.

Designed by award-winning landscape architect, Robert C. Marvin, and named for the six magnificent live oak trees that shelter a pathway leading to what was once the stately Lawton Plantation, Six Oaks Cemetery is endowed with tall palmettos, specimen pines and many stately oaks, some estimated to be more than 250 years old. According to Hunter, the oaks, which create a massive, moss-draped canopy, will continue growing, adding beauty and grandeur to the already remarkable site for centuries to come.

In addition, the Fraser family planted over 12,000 azaleas, and according to Hunter, many more have been added since. “When they pop out in full bloom [March/April], it’s magnificent,” he said.

The cemetery was started in 1966 when the seven-year-old daughter of a Sea Pines resident died suddenly and unexpectedly. Learning of the child’s untimely death, Fraser had to quickly choose an area to develop for her burial. Fraser had been holding this piece of property for himself, but decided to give it up for a cemetery. Leslie Gebhardt’s grave is located in the very center of the developed area.

At the time of the Charles Fraser Memorial, held in 2003, Carl Gebhardt, Leslie’s father, addressed an article to the Island Packet, recalling the tragedy. He wrote: “In our grief and despair beyond belief, Charles Fraser came to offer not only sympathy and support, but generous, compassionate assistance that only he could provide. He asked for no thanks or even recognition, but he surely knew the value and importance of his kindness.”

Located within Sea Pines Plantation, some misconception may exist that Six Oaks is only for Sea Pines residents, Hunter said. Six Oaks is a not-for-profit public cemetery and is available to everyone, he explained. The cemetery is maintained under a perpetual care program with a one-time charge for interment rights and no additional assessments.

Of the 24-acre site, 12 acres are covenanted as open space with 12 acres available for cemetery use. Slightly less than half of that has been developed, so there’s still plenty of room.

The Congregation section is reserved by special covenant for members and families of Congregation Beth Yam. Appropriate rabbinical services are available.

Another special section, the Veterans’ Garden, is dedicated to the men and women who have served in the United States armed forces. All veterans’ graves are marked with flags on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day, with a special ceremony conducted annually in honor of Veterans Day.

“We have a garden which is strictly for veterans, but we have veterans interred all over the cemetery. Wherever they are, they are honored with a flag on those three military holidays,” said Hunter. (Flags are typically displayed for about 10 days.) “An enormous number of tourists drive through at that time because the cemetery is awash in red, white and blue.”

Six Oaks offers a variety of interment options including private mausoleums, burial plots, urn sites, columbarium niches and a scatter garden. Memorialization options include solid granite or marble benches and bronze and granite markers. All are custom designed to meet your individual needs.

“We work with families to help accomplish their objectives. We encourage people to come and take a tour—look at the property and see what other families have done and consider what they might want,” said Hunter.

When you think about it, cemeteries are not about the dead. They are about the living. Cemeteries are actually how we keep our loved ones alive in our hearts and remind ourselves to live in the moment. Visit Six Oaks today and claim a piece of paradise on earth along with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your final plans are in place.

Six Oaks Cemetery is located at 175 Greenwood Dr. For more information or to arrange a personal tour, call (843) 671-1343 ext. 131 or (843) 384-3796.

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