What does a sexton do? For Phil Zumdick, who takes care of Mother of God Cemetery Association in Ft. Wright, it’s a helping profession. He shares what it’s like to maintain a sacred burial ground for people of all faiths or creeds for our February 2021 Cincinnati At Work issue.
Sexton, Mother of God Cemetery Association in Ft. Wright
How long have you been in this job and field of work?
For 28 years, all with the Mother of God Cemetery.
Why did you get into this field of work?
The unique historic setting caught my interest, and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds fit my skill set. I thought I’d stay for just five years, but the history part of the job—keeping the records and working with the families—has kept me here.
Best part of your job?
Being able to help client families when they’re stressed. Most of our clients have a limited understanding of the traditions or burial practices of a cemetery; many have a TV image of it. I try to clear away the clutter, be straightforward, and make their choices simple.
When visitors don’t respect the property’s sanctity or understand that the rules and regulations apply to everyone. Decorations are always a contentious subject.
What value does this work provide to the community at large?
We’re here to maintain a sacred burial ground for people of all faiths or creeds. It’s not just who we buried this year; it’s the generations from more than 132 years that are here for the community to remember and honor.
What value does it provide you?
I found a place to work that nurtures my old soul. I get to root around in the nooks and crannies of local history and beyond and learn of families’ stories and traditions.
How has the pandemic impacted your work?
We haven’t seen a big increase in burials, but there has an increase in the number of people making pre-need purchases. We’ve also seen a lot more people using the cemetery for exercise walking and, of course, genealogy research.
What’s a fun fact about your job that the public wouldn’t know?
The Cemetery Association provides a comfortable home on the grounds, and my wife Jenny and I raised our four children here. We’re both from large families, and all of our extended family and friends have enjoyed big gatherings on the grounds. We’re a business during the day, but when we close the gates it’s peaceful and private. And, no, it isn’t spooky. The only ghost stories I have are stories of the Holy Ghost.