It hasn’t been just a job for Scott Stiriz, it’s been a calling.
For the past 35 years, through rain, snow, and shine, Stiriz has dedicated his life to the maintenance and preservation of the final resting place for many of his neighbors – Wauseon Union Cemetery. It’s a responsibility he’s taken pride in.
Stiriz will step down from his longtime position as cemetery superintendent Dec. 28. It’s a decision brought on by age and related physical limitations but wasn’t one easy to make.
“It’s going to be hard not to come out here,” he admitted. “I feel God put me on this earth to take care of the cemetery. I think it’s my purpose, my calling.”
The 1979 Wauseon High School graduate and current City Council member was about 22 years old when he heard from his friend, the son of former cemetery superintendent Jim Crawford, that his dad needed help. Stiriz had studied accounting at what is now Northwest State Community College and at the University of Toledo, and was one class shy of receiving a degree.
“I realized I didn’t want to sit in an office all day. I’m more of an outdoor person,” he said.
He worked at the cemetery part-time for awhile, then was hired as superintendent by the cemetery board when Crawford left the position.
The work requires maintenance of the grounds, creating foundations for monuments, mowing and trimming, snow plowing, and digging graves. The latter is done with a backhoe, but a few times, when equipment wasn’t available, Stiriz dug with a shovel.
“I did it when I was a lot younger. It didn’t seem to bother me,” he said.
The job also calls for taking care of small but important tasks around the cemetery not noticed by the public until they’re not completed. “I take care of the little things,” he said.
It’s been work that has required Stiriz to remain on call and to miss holiday celebrations and his daughters Paige’s and Chloe’s sporting events as they grew. “I might get a call on Friday afternoon that I have a funeral on Monday morning,” he said, which means unexpected preparation for a grave site.
“When I first meet people and they ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a grave digger, and they just kind of look at me,” he added. “I’m just trying to continue what the people who started the cemetery did. I feel like it’s part of my life and my family’s life. It’s more than a job to me.”
When he prepares a grave “I try to make it feel like it’s my grandparent, my parent, my child. I try to put myself in their shoes. Sometimes, you have someone who’s lost a spouse or a child. They just want to talk. They just need an ear to listen. I don’t have any answers for them, I just listen.”
It can, however, take a toll when Stiriz must face the burial of a child. “It’s draining. It’s hard to sleep the night before,” he said. “It’s emotional, and it bothers me. It makes me think of my own kids.”
With 35 years behind him, Stiriz said it’s time to step down. The physical exertion of the work is becoming more difficult, and bracing through another winter in an outdoor job has lost any appeal. With age, he’s also dealing with increased anxiety about his constant to-do list.
Wauseon Union Cemetery board member Shane Chamberlin said he consistently hears from the public about the beautiful condition of the cemetery. “And that is directly related to Scott’s care for the cemetery. We’re going to be hard-pressed to find somebody who will give the cemetery such care and attention,” he said.
Stiriz said he’ll spend more time with LuAnn, his wife of 31 years, and will likely find a part-time job to keep busy. He may even finish that final college course to earn the accounting degree, “just so I can say I did it.”
Although the cemetery gained a new chapel and water line and improved roads under his tenure, Stiriz wishes he had had time to accomplish more.
“I think I did a good job. I took pride in my work,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.