Photos by Steve Muscatello
Story by Fritz Busch
Decades ago as mechnical engineering major at South Dakota State University, LeRoy Zander never dreamed he'd get into the cemetery monument business.
LeRoy Zander stands next to his monument before it is finished. Attached to the monument are the stencils that will be engraved into the petrified wood.
Now, he and his wife's burial site - Mountain View Cemetery, near Mount Rushmore and Keystone, S.D. and unique, multi-faceted gravestone - are on his bucket list and there to stay.
"Making gravestones has been a passion of mine for decades. My wife's family has been in that business for four generations," Zander said.
Their gravestone is no small matter. The couple recently completed their monument that weighs nearly two tons.
After operating in South Dakota, the Zanders bought Bloedel Monument Company in New Ulm and moved to Minnesota. The business is now known as Heritage Memorials & Stone Creations.
"Not long after we moved here, we noticed the Minnesota River Valley boulders and raw, granite field boulders, and decided to add landscaping to our monument business," Zander said.
Always looking for unique stones, Zander found his a unique rock on a friend's farm northwest of Gibbon.
"John Forst invited me to come out and look for landscape rocks at his rock piles before he buried them," Zander said. "I noticed some very unique rocks. I took about four truckloads out before I noticed one at the bottom because of its unique shape like a tall spire. It reminded me of the Black Hills shale rock formations on the outer wall of the Keystone (S.D.) cemetery. I knew I could use it as a monument because it wasn't big and round."
Zander thinks the big field rock may be petrified wood. He is having it tested by a University of Minnesota Geology Professor to verify if it is.
Forst drug out the rock from the pile with an old back hoe. Zander attached cribbing and put belts and chains around the rock and hauled it away in his boom truck, which is able to lift up to four tons of weight.
Zander hauled the big rock to a St. Cloud company where a 12-foot diameter saw blade cut a smooth joint so he could attach it to a polished, green granite base. The one-ton, green granite quarry rock was shipped to New Ulm from Brazil.
Mountain View Cemetery, aka Keystone Cemetery, is located on a hilly, wooded slope, offering a particularly unique view of Mount Rushmore when the sun shines on the faces of four presidents beyond the cemetery.
It's the burial site of mine and Mount Rushmore construction workers, many of whom died of silicosis - a lung condition caused by the dust they inhaled while carving the stone mountain - after the national monument construction concluded in October 1941.
Some websites claim the cemetery is haunted by the ghosts of deceased miners and construction workers.
Zander's completed civic project list includes the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Museum donor wall, worker roster and presidential plaques. He partnered with the National Geographic Society on the Chief Long Wolf Relocation Project from London, England to his ancestral burial grounds near Pine Ridge, S.D.