Members of the Color Guard of American Legion Post 32 in Livonia hold up the American flag in front of a coffin containing 57 unclaimed cremated remains on Friday at Rural Hill Cemetery in Northville (Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News)
Northville— The cremated remains of Nettie Rutledge — along with those of 56 others that have gone unclaimed for years at a local funeral home — finally were laid to rest Friday.
The remains of the 57 people were interred during a special ceremony at the Rural Hill Cemetery in Northville. 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.
“We realized we had to do something ... and we decided to have a ceremony of remembrance,” said David Griffin, owner of the L.J. Griffin Funeral Home Inc. “It’s our honor ... to do this service for those who have been forgotten.”
The funeral home inherited the unclaimed remains when it bought the Northrop-Sassaman Chapel this year.
Rutledge was born May 30, 1873, and died at age 61 on May 7, 1934. Her ashes had been kept at a funeral home for 80 years.
Initially, the unclaimed cremated remains of 59 people were in the group. But two families contacted the funeral home and claimed the ashes of relatives after The Detroit News published an article about them Thursday, Griffin said.
Relatives of Anna Goodwillie, who died Dec. 31, 1986, at age 89, and Navy veteran Ronald Nowland, who died March 6, 1990, at 29, have arranged to claim their cremated remains, Griffin said.
During Friday’s ceremony, members of Myron H. Beals American Legion Post No. 32 in Livonia served as pallbearers and laid the remains to rest at the cemetery.
“We’ve adopted these forgotten veterans,” said Linda Roman of Livonia, president of the post’s auxiliary. “We’ll continue to honor them on veterans’ holidays and at Christmas.”
Since the veterans who were laid to rest Friday had no next of kin, Roman accepted the folded American flag that was draped over the coffin.
A Catholic priest and a Presbyterian minister also presided over a short service.
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. Until Thursday, no response had been received for the 59 left in the funeral home’s possession.
The funeral home covered the cost of a gravesite at the cemetery, a burial vault to house the ashes and a monument that will list the names of each of the deceased, Griffin said. He estimated the total cost at more than $5,000.