A firestorm of controversy is brewing outside the city limits of Russellville, Arkansas. A neighborhood elementary school sits in the middle of the debate along with a prominent businessman whose vision for the neighborhood has created the controversy. Parents of students attending Center Valley Elementary got wind of the proposal and have become divided on the issue. It is surprising that at the heart of this debate is Jim Bob Humphrey’s proposed crematorium and Center Valley Memorial Gardens.
Proposed Crematorium and Memorial Gardens
Jim Bob Humphrey is the president of Humphrey Funeral Service. Mr. Humphrey’s roots in funeral service run deep in Pope County. His father, Jesse Humphrey, worked in the field of funeral service for 56 years and trained the next generation to provide quality funeral service for the community. It is Jim Bob Humphrey’s plan to expand the family business and offer new services in the community that has garnered attention. His family has owned the farmland next to Center Valley Elementary for decades and sold acreage to the school district so that the district could build the school in its current location in 1985. Mr. Humphrey’s proposal is to build a pond and a tree-lined border as a barrier between the school and the proposed cemetery and crematorium.
Issues Being Aired
The heart of the debate centers on the placement of the crematorium next to the school. Homeowners are upset because they fear that their property values will decrease causing them to be unable to sell their homes in the future. Others fear the emissions of the crematorium will be harmful to the environment and those living nearby. Also, the group states that they do not want to traumatize the children and are calling the crematorium facility a ‘human incinerator’.
Those in favor of the facility have noted that cemeteries are located within walking distance from Oakland Heights Elementary and Russellville High School. Both are located in the Russellville School District. Also, the population of the county continues to grow while the older established cemeteries are filling up and are running out of space for new gravesites. Mr. Humphrey’s proposed Memorial Garden addresses the need for additional space and new ways of caring for the increasing population of decedents. Another interesting fact is that near Center Valley Elementary and immediately next to the Center Valley Grocery sits a county road marker for the Old Baptist Cemetery. This cemetery is nearby but is not visible from the school’s property.
Social Media Platform
Both sides of the controversy are taking advantage of social media to advance their positions. A video of a flyover of the proposed Center Valley Memorial Gardens can be viewed on the Humphrey Funeral Service Facebook page as well as information supporting the proposal. Those against the proposed cemetery and crematorium have formed a Facebook group called STOP the Center Valley Crematorium to spread their message of opposition.
Progress or Propriety?
The crematorium will be the first of its kind in Pope County. Traditionally, burial of an intact embalmed body is the funeral service of choice. However, nationwide and locally, the trend is changing to cremation. According to the national funeral service industry, this is progress and a wave of the future. According to locals, it is improper and just should not be done in their backyard, and certainly not next to a school.
Decisions To Be Made
Public meetings will be held so that the community can listen to the facts and make their questions and concerns known per Arkansas statutes. The crematorium has not been built yet, but it is already casting a shadow over the neighborhood in which it will sit.