June 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

Decades later, unclaimed remains will be laid to rest in Detroit area

Among the unclaimed remains held by the L.J. Griffin Funeral Home, Northrop-Sassaman Chapel are Norval W. Marlett and Nettie Rutledge. They will be interred in a ceremony Friday along with 57 others. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Northville— Nettie Rutledge was born May 30, 1873, and died at the age of 61 on May 7, 1934.

No one knows much about the woman whose cremated remains have sat in a funeral home’s steel cabinet for the past 80 years.

On Friday, her ashes, along with those of 58 unclaimed others will be put in their final resting place during a special ceremony at the Rural Hill Cemetery in Northville.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said David Griffin, funeral director of the L.J. Griffin Funeral Home, Northrop-Sassaman Chapel. “Honorably, they should have a final resting place and this is something we can do for them.”

Rutledge has waited the longest to be buried. The others died from the 1940s through 2006.

Among the group are a couple of infants and seven veterans of the U.S. armed services, including Norval Marlett, who served in the Spanish-American War in 1898.

L.J. Griffin Funeral Home Inc. inherited the unclaimed remains when it bought the Northrop-Sassaman Chapel this year.

Founded in 1954 in Detroit by Larry and Gerry Griffin, L.J. Griffin expanded to Westland in the 1970s. Later, the company opened locations in Canton and Livonia.

David Griffin, who grew up in the family business and is a second-generation funeral director, said his staff sent registered letters to the contact people on record for the cremated remains, asking what they wanted done with them. No response was received for the 59 left in the funeral home’s possession, Griffin said.

Most of the remains are in plastic bags within cardboard boxes labeled with the names of the deceased. Some boxes are fancier than others. All were kept safe in metal cabinets.

Griffin said it’s not unusual for ashes to be left at funeral homes, but it is mind-boggling no one came forward to claim them.

The funeral home has put to rest unclaimed cremated remains in the past, but never so many at once, he said.

L.J. Griffin is covering the cost of a grave site at the cemetery, a burial vault to house all of the ashes and a monument that will list the names of each of the deceased, Griffin said. His employees have also spent dozens of hours sending letters in hopes of contacting families. Griffin estimates the total cost at more than $5,000.

Members of Myron H. Beals American Legion Post No. 32 in Livonia will serve as pall bearers and lay the remains to rest at Rural Hill. A Catholic priest and a Presbyterian minister will preside over a short service. American Legion members will also perform a salute to the veterans and play taps.

Phil Douma, executive director of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association, said more and more funeral homes have to make the final arrangements for unclaimed cremated remains.

He said the remains go unclaimed for many reasons, such as when the deceased has no family or there’s a dispute over possession of the remains.

The increasing number of unclaimed remains prompted the state Legislature in 2009 to enact a law designed to alleviate a pileup of unclaimed cremated remains at funeral homes and morgues, he said.

Under the law, funeral homes must hold on to cremated remains for at least six months. They then have to notify the next of kin and 30 days after the notice they can inter the ashes.

The state also helps people who can’t afford it pay for burials and cremations. Michigan spent nearly $3.9 million last year to help pay for more than 15,770 burials and cremations for low-income people and the indigent last year, according to the state’s Department of Human Services. It spent about the same amount for 16,081 burials and cremations in 2012.

“It’s a tragic situation when someone’s cremated remains remain unclaimed,” Douma said. “But funeral directors who utilize the statute are attempting to provide some respectful final disposition for those unclaimed cremated remains.”

Names of the unclaimed

Cremated remains of 59 people, listed with the date they were born and died, will be buried Friday. Relatives who want to claim the remains before burial should call the L.J. Griffin Funeral Home, Northrop-Sassaman Chapel at (248) 348-1233.
■Jerry Addison, 7/14/1973 — 6/22/1981
■Bruno Bach, 7/8/1909 — 10/8/1988
■Leah Bailey, 4/25/1902 — 2/2/1976
■Charles Barnard, 12/6/1941 — 9/8/1987
■Robert Barnard, 3/24/1926 — 9/25/1989
■Eric Bartley, No records
■Clara Bentley, 1/12/1896 — 4/1/1987
■Mary Birch, 11/21/1863 — 12/29/1955
■William Breitenback, 5/8/1874 — 9/25/1953
■Robert Chynoweth, 9/29/1929 — 7/7/2003
■Marjorie Cole, 3/26/1923 — 5/30/1984
■Phillip Cooper, 1/20/1934 — 3/28/1989
■Betty Crooks, 2/11/1894 — 3/23/1979
■Marie Deckhart, 3/11/1918 — 5/5/2004
■Sarah Dunn, 3/4/1886 — 7/15/1973
■Ruby Evans, 8/26/1893 — 5/26/1959
■Vesta Formaz, 3/3/1880 — 12/31/1957
■Dorothea Frost, 10/5/1913 —11/20/1993
■Keith Gendron, 3/10/1942 — 6/13/1990
■Anna Goodwillie, 7/23/1897 — 12/31/1986
■Irene Graves, 9/10/1930 — 2/11/2005
■Russell Harold, 6/27/1905 — 1/7/1968
■Ernest Hawke, 4/18/1883 — 10/31/1961
■Dorothy Hays, 1/26/1925 — 3/22/1999
■Bernard Hill, 7/9/1883 — 8/22/1961
■Janet Hochstein, 4/2/1930 — 6/22/1968
■Peter Hollowaty, 5/21/1918 — 11/30/1986
■George Kerr, 10/7/1924 — 7/20/2004
■Baby Kippenham, 12/19/1967 — 12/19/1967
■Vera Ann Lewis, 2/26/1901 — 4/1/1987
■John Lipple, 8/4/1895 — 7/28/1973
■Marinus Lohde, 1/19/1900 — 10/28/1975
■Norval Marlett, 12/15/1876 — 10/13/1955
■Helen Masse, 8/20/1910 — 5/11/1985
■Christina McDonald, 9/1/1881 — 10/19/1974
■Grace McKenna, unknown — 4/14/1960
■William McKenna, 7/3/1891 — 1/7/1952
■Marguerite Miller, 6/8/1922 — 10/8/1989
■Arthur Norris, 10/30/1897 — 9/5/1951
■Ronald Nowland, 6/25/1960 — 3/6/1990
■Luther Palmer, 8/26/1881 — 1/6/1958
■Margaret Partridge, 12/16/1911 — 5/20/1985
■Esther Regnaert, 9/26/1919 — 5/18/2007
■Nettie Rutledge, 5/30/1873 — 5/7/1934
■George Schoenback, 2/18/1917 — 7/22/1982
■Olive Schoenback, 8/10/1924 — 7/26/1978
■Georgia Scholtz, 7/12/1910 — 1/10/1994
■Helen Scott, 8/11/1927 — 1/20/1996
■Stella Slater, 5/6/1903 — 1/10/1967
■Luise Sonntag, 2/26/1912 — 12/12/1995
■Frank Starin, 8/19/1892 — 12/30/1958
■Frank Steffen, unknown — 5/30/1961
■Elmira Stewart, 9/29/1921 — 7/31/1992
■Gertrude Uhlig, 10/10/1876 — 10/10/1963
■Chloe VanArsdel, 9/16/1892 —9/28/1961
■Faith Waddell, 5/18/1956 — 10/21/1956
■Ralph Webster, 12/11/1864 — 12/8/1941
■Thelma Wiese, 5/10/1916 — 4/16/1983
■Betty Woodruff, 9/26/1916 — 6/22/1990

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