About a dozen protesters picketed Aug. 5 at Cottage Grove Cemetery.
It was the latest salvo in a dispute with cemetery management, who protesters said had stripped the gravesites of mementos they'd left as tributes to their loved ones.
The two sides are scheduled to meet Sept. 17.
In June, the cemetery removed items from graves and placed them into rows by the site's office for people to collect. They included toy cars, stuffed animals, a hockey stick, a fishing rod and a commemorative concrete bench.
Many said they were not notified of the purge. Cemetery management said they attempted to notify plot owners but that some had outdated contact information. Others had died.
Word spread on Facebook about the missing items. Janet Ambright, whose husband Lonny is buried in the cemetery, organized the protest because she said they were not getting answers from the cemetery.
"We chose this cemetery for its beauty and its availability to put out mementos to show what our family member was like," she said.
Kristie Winter, whose son Travis is buried in the cemetery, brought her granddaughter Isabella, 11, to the protest. She said officials had removed a daisy-shaped thermometer that Isabella had placed on her dad's grave. Travis Winter died in 2012 at age 27.
“He was a roofer so he had to know what the temperature was,” she said. “It was just for her to give to her dad.”
Protester Dawn Edlesfsen said she enjoyed seeing the different tributes at the cemetery.
"You could walk down the rows and see the story of the person that died," she said. "Now they’ve taken the story away."
Her sister, Laura Edlefsen, said she did receive a letter from the cemetery about the removal of the items. Still, she said she had to dig in a dumpster to retrieve a commemorative stone inscribed to their mother, Corinne.
Michael Sharkey, the attorney for the Cottage Grove Cemetery Association, stood nearby as some passing motorists honked in support of the picketers.
"The rules have always been there," he said "There was some lax enforcement prior to this."
That changed in 2018, when superintendent Ken Otto was hired.
The cemetery has always forbidden certain items, Sharkey said, because they create clutter and pose a hazard to the grounds-keeping crew. He cited solar lights as an example. They last about a year before dying and eventually fall apart, he said.
“Now we have batteries, now we have plastic, now we have chunks of metal,” he said.
That debris can be dangerous if it's sucked into the rotary blades of a riding mower, he said.
A list of "not approved" items at Cottage Grove Cemetery includes "shepherd hooks, knick-knacks, solar lights," a range of toys and decorations such as pinwheels, borders and "statues above ground." The approved items include planted flowers or potted plants in stands, as well as eternal candles and seasonal wreaths.
Sharkey, who is also a funeral director, said cemetery management has a duty to keep the grounds clean and green.
"We’ve had many of the families that we serve tell us that they’re very pleased with the new caretaking approach because the cemetery looks much cleaner and tidier than it had in the past," he said. "And we’re proud of that."