New head over the dead
Fitch picked to run Oak Ridge Cemetery
Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder has tapped Lashonda Fitch to become the new executive director of Oak Ridge Cemetery after current executive director Michael Lelys retires in October.
Fitch, a real estate agent who also is employed as a small business counselor by Justine Petersen, a St. Louis-based entity that helps set up loans to help small businesses, previously was employed for 11 months at Illinois Times, where she worked as a small business consultant. “Can you believe it?” Fitch said. “I’m still in shock.”
In addition to working for Illinois Times and Justine Petersen, Fitch also has worked for banks, including Illini Bank, Harris Bank and United Community Bank, where she was a vice president and branch manager until 2017. She has no experience in the funeral industry or running a cemetery or overseeing historic sites, but, then again, neither did Lelys, who was an educator and Springfield Housing Authority executive before he became cemetery director in 2011.
Langfelder said that Fitch will start work at the cemetery after Labor Day, then become director in the first week of October, when Lelys plans to retire. Langfelder said that marketing the cemetery is a priority, and Fitch’s experience in banking will serve her well. Fitch will report directly to Langfelder, with her appointment subject to city council approval.
Langfelder said he’d like to see Oak Ridge go high tech, and Fitch agrees. “My goal, really, is to embrace technology,” Fitch said. She points out that Arlington National Cemetery has a Facebook page with 600,000 followers that is regularly updated. By contrast, Oak Ridge’s Facebook page has fewer than 100 followers and was last updated in 2016.
The mayor said he’d wants to see technology employed so that the curious can easily look up gravesites online instead of relying on paper records to figure out who is buried where. Fitch also says she’d like to explore the possibility of looking beneath the surface with gadgets that have enabled cemetery keepers elsewhere to discover unmarked graves via ground penetrating radar. Perhaps, she suggested, technology can provide a look at what lies beneath without disturbing loved ones.
Fitch says her degree in business management will serve her well in running the cemetery’s finances. “I look at this as another business to manage,” she said. “It’s not a cemetery, it’s a business.”
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