Finesse, a backhoe and other skills of running a cemetery.

Loni teaches Glow readers what it takes to do her job. 


Loni has a dream job. At the rec department for the City of Laramie, she runs a backhoe, goes to budget meetings, hires seasonals, and is a strong presence as she lowers caskets into newly dug graves.  

She's outside. She works with her hands. Some days are sad. Some days families come with mariachi bands to send their loved ones off. Those days are happier.  But Loni's job is to make sure the cemetery looks and runs beautifully. It's not to be sad with each family. Although, we are human. And there are realities of her job that you and I don't have.

My first question to Loni is nothing new to her. I say, "Do you work only in the cemetery? Like is there enough work year round?"  She responds, "Yup. Me and the 7 - 8 seasonals I have to hire each summer, plus my full-time maintenance person. And I still don't get done everything I want during the summer months!"

I'm blown away. The cemetery looks static and perfect everytime I drive by. I've underestimated how much effort it takes to do this.

We jump into gravedigging. 

Loni says I run the backhoe. I'm good at it. I just am. There are small spaces between the graves. Sometimes only 8 inches. Some people can't do it. They rush it. It's in your fingertips. You can feel rocks and you can push around them. The Mind-body connection and, texture in your hands - you can feel everything. You don't need to bust through it. There isn't a rush. It takes finesse. If you take your time, and the dirt is good, you can edge a perfect grave. 


I'm surprised at how little I know about cemetery functionings.  Maybe because I never had anyone to ask before. If we are lucky, we haven't had to contribute to burial decisions for a loved one. So you don't know until you have to know. 

I need a metaphor.  Because my brain works in metaphors. 

It's like I learned where water flows after it leaves my sight. It's like I learned what happens to my recycling once that really nice guy comes and picks it up.  I am learning what goes beyond where before it stopped.

I ask Loni how she landed this job. 

While she was growing up she had a Jeep and trailer to mow grass. Even before she had her license she had her own business.  She did her parent's lawn. But she needed more. In her words - "I love lush green grass, straight lines, and trimmed curbs... the beautification of a yard. I loved it and I still love it." She would take her mower and trimmer and inquire to railroad workers and older people if they would hire her. She had a thriving business. Now, in the cemetery, she'll stop her seasonals after they finish string trimming a row of headstones. "You guys, that looks so good! You did such a good job. It's beautiful."   I repeat in awe, "Green grass, and straight lines." I can feel myself zenning out on this concept.

I return to winter and inquire about her current day - to -day operations. 

It's the middle of December so I ask her to break down what today looked like at work. She reminds me that people still die in the winter and graves must still be dug. I nod like I knew that. Clearly, having already forgotten that her work doesn't stop because it's winter.

She says today I came in early, 6 am and picked up one of the hand shoveling routes for the City. It snowed last night. She admits, sometimes it's nice to get out of the cemetery.  If I'm lucky and it snows a lot I can pop in my earbuds and run the backhoe over all the cemetery roads so they are cleared for travel.

Today I'll see if I need to use the grave/ground defroster. 

Pause one. 

A what? 

If I try and dig a grave now, the ground feels like cement. We use an 8-foot metal enclosure with a propane torch to defrost the ground. Then we can dig. It's like an enclosed blow torch. 

Wow, there are so many fun activities to running the cemetery, I comment. "There really are!", says Loni.

I'm fascinated by the broad range of skills one must have to excell at her job. From the machinary and maintenance to management, to the diverse interactions she has with the public, coming to her as they need to make decisions during difficult times.

Finally, we talk clothes. 

She says she makes due but has frustrations. 

Pants could be better. Warm weather gear needs to allow for better range of motion. There is a general malaise around her describing her current workwear gear.  Finally, she remarks, "I wear what I wear to fit in."

I can see the sparkle in her eye as she dreams up better workwear. 


Loni will prototype Glow Workwear garments in March and April of 2018.

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