On October 31, 2013, Hal and Karyn Ezzell acquired Rose Hill Funeral Home and Memorial Park Cemetery through their newly organized company Rose Hill Partners, LLC. They purchased all of the assets of Reynolds Funeral Service from the court appointed receiver responsible for selling the assets as part of the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings of Reynolds Funeral Service. For almost 3 years prior, the cemetery had been unsuccessfully marketed on a national basis by a nationally known broker specializing in funeral home and cemetery sales. Due to its generally poor condition, there was little interest and no offers made on Rose Hill. It was a project that would take a special person. Someone interested in the history and local significance of Rose Hill, and who was passionate about it. That is exactly what drew the Ezzell family to make their offer. The Ezzell family is committed to both Rose Hill and Tulsa. Karyn Ezzell is the licensed Funeral Director in Charge of Rose Hill Funeral Home and is on-site everyday taking care of the families. Karyn’s husband, Hal, has been focused on planning and overseeing the repairs and improvements to the cemetery grounds and operations.
The Ezzell’s started working on improving and repairing Rose Hill on Day 1 of taking over. They laid out a six year capital improvement plan and after two years they have already completed a number of those projects in the funeral home and cemetery. Most notably, they have:
- Replaced the fountain in the pond
- Installed new capstones and lights on the bridge
- Put in all new landscaping
- Installed new entrance gates
- Installed new fencing across the front of the funeral home and cemetery up to the intersection of Yale and Admiral Pl
- Installed a new brick monument wall at the intersection of Yale and Admiral Pl
- Installed new exterior lighting around the funeral home, parking lot, and mausoleums
- Repaired the roads throughout the cemetery
- Repainted and updated the funeral home inside and out, including new furnishings
- Installed state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment in the funeral home for families’ services
- Repainted and re-done the Chapel of Peace Mausoleum
- Purchased a new back hoe and new groundskeeping equipment
- Doubled the size of the groundskeeping staff
The Ezzell’s were very proud this past Memorial Day when a gentleman approached them and said, “I have been coming out here every Memorial Day since 1967 and the grounds have never looked this good. Thank you.”
While enormous progress has been made improving many areas of the cemetery, there are still projects to be done. The largest undertaking at Rose Hill today is the Abbey Mausoleum. The Abbey Mausoleum at Rose Hill is the oldest and largest mausoleum in the state of Oklahoma. The first phase was constructed in 1926 and there have been four additions since then, the most recent being completed in 1967. Unfortunately, over the decades, the Abbey Mausoleum deteriorated into a complete state of disrepair. It would appear as though once the Abbey Mausoleum in practical terms filled; the prior owners stopped taking care of it. In addition to overall neglect, the mid to late 80’s were a very dark time in Rose Hill’s history. We have found archives from the Tulsa World newspaper that indicate the individuals running Rose Hill at the time had embezzled significant sums of money from the perpetual care trust. We have not found reports on how that was remedied by the sale of Rose Hill to Gibraltar Corporation. However, we believe that damage from that event still challenges the cemetery today by having a perpetual care trust fund that is smaller than it should be. Fortunately, such a thing could not happen today as the state has since changed the law and transferred regulatory oversight from the Banking Commission to the Insurance Commission. Hal and Karyn are just as concerned about the condition of the Abbey Mausoleum as those who have loved ones interred in it. They are in the process of developing a feasible plan to repair and restore it. Unfortunately, the amount of neglect that took place will not be able to be completely remediated in only a few years.
Being a perpetual care cemetery, Oklahoma law requires that 10% of the lot price be set aside in a perpetual care trust fund that benefits the cemetery. The goal of the fund is to provide money to pay for the care and upkeep of the cemetery after it is full and no longer economically viable. It is estimated that Rose Hill has at least another 175 years before it will be completely full. The principal of the trust fund may not be used for any purpose within the cemetery, though the income may be used. Unfortunately, the income from the perpetual care trust fund is not substantial enough to cover even a third of the annual groundskeeping expenses, leaving no funds for capital improvement projects or significant repairs. While the law requires a minimum of 10% to be set aside, our experience at Rose Hill during the last two years tells us that is not enough. Therefore, beginning in 2017, Rose Hill will increase the contribution to its perpetual care trust fund to 20%.
The Ezzell’s were aware of the problems with the Abbey Mausoleum after they made their initial due diligence inspections. There is no opportunity to secure a traditional bank loan for repairs to the mausoleum because the Abbey Mausoleum is for all practical intents and purposes full. Rose Hill cannot show any new income stream that will be created to repay the loan. Still they felt there were some “outside the box” ideas and options that could address the repair challenge. After extensive legal research, the most promising option seemed to be the idea of borrowing the money required to fix the Abbey Mausoleum from the Rose Hill perpetual care trust. As a loan that would be repaid, this would not constitute using the principal of the perpetual care trust, but rather would be like any other investment of the trust principal. Rose Hill wrote the Insurance Commission legal department and asked for their concurrence that there were no statutory or case law prohibitions on such a transaction. Rose Hill worked with the Insurance Commission’s lawyer and answered the extensive questions they put forth concerning the project. Rose Hill received verbal indications from the Insurance Commission’s lawyer that he concurred with the analysis and the lack of any legal prohibition. Unfortunately, the lawyer Rose Hill had been working with abruptly retired before the Insurance Commission acted on this issue. After a month of struggling to reach anyone, we were finally able to find someone who would discuss the matter. It became obvious at that time that no one at the insurance commission was willing to entertain our issue. Two days later we received a short letter denying the request. After reading the letter, we believe the author made no effort to review the files or understand the facts of the proposed transaction.
Rose Hill evaluated the costs of litigating the issue with the Insurance Commission. However, it was ultimately decided that litigation was a poor use of the cemetery resources. We have also considered a private fundraising campaign with the families of loved ones interred in the mausoleum. Such a campaign would take a lot of time, and we felt that we needed to start repairs sooner rather than later. While we will likely revisit the private fundraising option in the future, the decision was made to break the needed repairs and restoration down into manageable sub-projects. The downside of this approach is that it will take much longer to restore the mausoleum than our original plan. In that regard, we recently started the first project which is repairing the lighting and electrical systems. Unfortunately, for the safety of our families, the mausoleum must be closed when the electricians are working, but with notice we can make arrangements for visits. We will be updating this post and posting pictures regularly to keep you informed of what is happening with the Abbey Mausoleum.
We hope our families are encouraged by the progress and improvements that they see at Rose Hill and are as excited as we are about the future of Rose Hill. Please call us if you have any questions or desire any additional information about anything at Rose Hill Funeral Home and Memorial Park Cemetery.