Queen Creek farmer Mark Schnepf stands at the corner of his family farm — envisioning his final resting place. “When I pass away, I want to be buried on the farm,” he said. “I figured if I do this for me and my family, why not make it a little bigger.”
Schnepf, who was Queen Creek’s first mayor, is in the preliminary stages of applying to Maricopa County so he can develop the northwest corner of his farm at Cloud and Signal Butte roads into a community cemetery. There is no cemetery in the area and residents have long talked about wanting one in their community. The closest burial grounds are in Mesa and Chandler.
Corn and alfalfa were once growing on the now dusty seven acres Schnepf has set aside. He says it’s enough room for a cemetery and a small mortuary that would be leased and run by an outside company.
There is also room to expand the grounds south, he said.
“I’ve been considering this for years and interest in this was first piqued in the 1970s with my father,” Schnepf said. “The idea was shelved for many years but when I took a look at long-range uses for the farm I thought this was something the community needs.”
Schnepf said the area planned for the cemetery is away from the entertainment portion of the farm and will be flanked by a row of pine trees on each side.
“It’s green, it’s quiet,” Schnepf said. “Cemeteries can be very beautiful. This will be beautiful from Day One.”
Schnepf’s initial research, which included asking friends and community members if they would like to see a cemetery for the town, was met with resounding positive support.
Queen Creek resident Richard Caldwell thinks having a cemetery in Queen Creek is a “phenomenal idea.” As the area has grown, the entire Southeast Valley has seen increased services but not when it comes to cemeteries, he said.
“We lost a child two years ago and we would have loved to have an opportunity or an option to bury them where we live,” Caldwell said. “This is where our roots are.”
The Caldwells’ child is buried in Chandler, where they also purchased lots, but he said he is willing to move everything back to Queen Creek.
“We’re here to stay. We love it,” said Caldwell, who has lived in the town since 2001.
Monte Nevitt, born and raised in Queen Creek, said he loves the idea of having a cemetery in the community.
“I don’t feel the connection to Mesa or Chandler,” he said. “I want to be buried closer to home. It’s absolutely emotional reasons.”
Nevitt said he’s heard people comment over the years about the lack of a cemetery in the town.
“If the option were there for me to stay in Queen Creek, whether I continue to live here or not, the idea of coming home to Queen Creek to be laid to rest appeals to me.”
Deputy planning director Darren Gerard said Schnepf will need a special-use permit requiring a public input process.
“I’m sure if it’s designed well it won’t be a problem,” Gerard said of the cemetery project.
Eric Latto, chief of staff for Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock, said the county works closely with the Schnepf family and has received no calls opposing the planned project.
In the next month, Schnepf said he will determine what the county requires for off-site and road improvements to make the cemetery a reality. Then he’ll know if he can afford to do the project. He said if everything goes as planned, and he can afford the improvements, the cemetery could be open as early as July 2009.
“Queen Creek has always been a unique and special place,” Schnepf said. “There’s a sense of community and camaraderie that doesn’t exist other places. The idea of staying here is very appealing — it’s a sense of completeness.”