OGDEN -- In the Top of Utah, cemeteries are filling quickly and cities are struggling to find other options.
One cemetery in Ogden, thanks to the foresight of a young businessman in the 1920s, still has enough land to fill burial needs far into the future.
Currently, only 50 percent of the property is utilized at Leavitt's Mortuary and Aultorest Memorial Park, said owner Mike Leavitt.
The cemetery and memorial park started out on 40 acres of farmland purchased by James Harbertson, Leavitt's grandfather, in 1927. After putting in roads and a sprinkler system and having the burial plots surveyed, the cemetery opened in 1929.
"He was a visionary, way ahead of his time, and wanted to go into something everyone would need," said Leavitt. His grandfather knew everyone needed a final resting place and had the foresight to know space would be at a premium in years to come.
Harbertson later purchased an additional 20 acres adjacent to the land and built the state's first combination cemetery and memorial park, a new concept at the time.
Leavitt said Harbertson was also the first in the area to build a crematorium and mausoleum, currently the largest in Utah, constructed with marble Harbertson imported from Italy.
The rate of cremation goes up in years when the economy is down, though Leavitt's Mortuary has noticed this year's cremation rates aren't as high as last year's.
Going into the burial business isn't what Leavitt had originally planned for his future, because he grew up with his dad handling the business, but after trying his hand in construction, he came back to his familial roots.
"I would watch people thank him all the time and love what he had done for them, so at age 19, I decided I wanted to do that too," Leavitt said. "Not a day goes by without a family coming up and giving me a hug. I can go home with a smile on my face."
The hardest part for him is the young people he sees.
"It eats at you when you see someone young that has passed away and you see the family hurting," Leavitt said. However, he can relate to the families, having experienced the same emotions when his daughter died at the age of 27.
Leavitt has a degree from the Cypress College of Mortuary Science. Behind the scenes, there are many small details Leavitt's Mortuary pays attention to in an effort to make things easier on families, even after the funeral has been held.
Leavitt wants to make sure his clients are taken care of in the weeks and months that follow.
"We don't end at the cemetery and say, 'Thank you.' We try to continue on by having a counselor visit with the family," Leavitt said. "We know we are not perfect, but we strive for 110 percent and do the very best we can."
The mortuary also includes a grief counseling group that meets regularly to help those suffering from a loss.
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