You Get a New Look at Permanent Placement
by Susan Cushing

They say there’s nothing new under the sun, but that doesn’t take into account those creative souls who fashion something entirely unique from something that’s very familiar. Such an artist is Gerardo Garcia, president and CEO of Columbarium by Design and creator of The Only True In-Ground Niche on the market. Through his Eternal Niche Family of Brands, Gerardo provides the design and development of columbaria, mausoleums, and cremation gardens that are both unique and highly personalized.

According to Gerardo, whose experience includes a long tenure as the chief administrative officer for a notable funeral group out of El Paso, TX, he was inspired by “the clear need for modern and appealing columbaria and cremation gardens.”

A large part of Garcia’s clientele is composed of cemeteries and churches that are seeking something new and innovative for their clientele. Implementing his own patented In-Wall Niche system and In-Ground Niche, Gerardo and his team design truly unique memorial spaces.

“I developed my own patented In-Wall Niche system and created the only true In-Ground Niche on the market,” he says.

Perhaps the most versatile system available, Gerardo’s In-Wall Niche, can be incorporated into any indoor or outdoor structure or design. Steering away from the standard square granite-clad designs, he consults with his clients to determine exactly what they would like. His cabinets are fabricated from solid, durable, and lasting materials that won’t crack, break, or deform with time, ground settling, or weight. In addition, they use the most advanced construction techniques available that results in modern, unique, and long-lasting structures.

What’s more, dealing with entities that provide services to those seeking suitable cremation locations, Gerardo’s team provides an in-depth proprietary return-on-investment projection model, as well as full marketing services, to ensure their clients get the highest return on their investment in the shortest period of time.

Saint Matthew

One of their most notable ongoing projects is for Father Nick O’Brien of the Saint Matthew Catholic Cemetery in Winter Haven, FL.

“Our cemetery is one of our main ministries of our parish, giving us the opportunity to fulfill the Corporal Work of Mercy to bury the dead and the Spiritual Work of Mercy praying for the living and the dead,” says the Father. “Currently, we are only offering the inurement of cremated remains in a five-unit granite columbarium and recently have begun offering Columbarium by Design’s In-Ground Niche.”

According to Father O’Brien, the project began when he noticed an ad describing Gerardo’s unique In-Ground Niche.” With our four perimeter units nearing capacity, we realized the need for expansion,” he explains. “To construct a unit similar to what we currently had would be quite costly. The In-Ground Niche of Columbarium by Design was the only one of its kind that we could find and available immediately. We also liked the fact that, unlike our current units where they must use a certain size urn that we make available, with the In-Ground Niche, a family is able to use whatever type of urn they would like, plus the ability to put more than just two urns in a single unit. There is also the ability of the family to be able to engrave more on the granite stone than what our niche units allowed.”

Father O’Brien says that his parishioners have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, with most of them commenting on how personal the In-Ground Niche is, comparing it to the difference between an apartment and a house. The In-Ground Niche is more of a family estate.

“The design, easy to open and close, watertight,” Father goes on to say. “Easy to install. Being concerned about how this was going to work for us and how easy it would be to install them, I installed the first one myself. Found it very easy to do. I was then concerned after a heavy storm if water got into the unit. When we opened it up, not a single drop of water was in it.”

And talking about successful clients, Father O’Brien says, “Being a part of the Diocese of Orlando, we are working closely with our Director of Cemeteries for the Diocese to allow for expansion with traditional burial plots.”

Grand View Legacy Trail

Another triumphant project was completed at The Grand View Legacy Trail in Maryville, TN. Lynn Gibson, who is the co-director of operations, is just as enthusiastic with the results as Father O’Brien. Gibson, along with business partner Jason Chambers, for Smith Life & Legacy, serves client families in the East Tennessee region, just south of Knoxville, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In this community of Blount County, TN, they operate two funeral homes, a cemetery, a crematory, a florist, and an event center rental company.

Gibson, like Father O’Brien, was looking for new and creative ways to better provide for the people of his community. He took this challenge seriously and invested significant time and effort in researching alternative ideas.

“My organization has been working with Dr. Jason Troyer for several years in developing better grief resources for our community and analyzing the changing trends of deathcare,” he says. “Through our work together, we have learned of several emerging patterns now evident in how we approach death in the United States. In short, today’s emerging ethos represents broad changes in the way people think about death. For example, a growing number of people are less formally religious, not tied to traditional rituals, geographically distant from where they were born, more economically committed to short-term priorities, and open to new ideas and alternative ceremonies.”

“These trends inspired me to embark on a five-year Ph.D. program with two research promoters from Stellenbosch University in South Africa,” Gibson continues. “Once completed, my dissertation was entitled, ‘The Deritualization of Death: Toward a Practical Theology of Caregiving for the Bereaved.’ Out of this research and my work with Dr. Troyer, my business partners, and team leaders decided to launch a new initiative for our cemetery. The project was called the Grandview Legacy Trail & Pavilion. The project would have three phases: an outdoor pavilion, a 1⁄4  mile walking trail with options for permanent placement for cremation, and a Healing Path® aftercare program—the first of its kind. Our goal for this development was to meet the changing preferences of our community while, at the same time, providing a quality of care that meets the universal needs of the bereaved.

“The big idea we are heralding is about the timeless value of permanent placement: cemeteries are not only sacred places where the deceased are remembered, but also where people can regularly engage in healing and meaningful experiences.”

Gerardo, with his own unique designs and personalized system, collaborated in the development and construction of The Grandview Legacy Trail. Taking advantage of the breathtaking mountain views, the design incorporated Lynn Gibson and Jason Troyer’s creation, The Healing Path®.

“We designed our project to make the most of the foot traffic at our new pavilion,” says Gibson. “Gerardo, and his team at Columbarium by Design, were able to match the ‘modern mountain’ motif perfectly. The outcome and response from our community has been tremendous.”

According to Gibson, the design has attracted an unprecedented amount of interest from the public, who are drawn to the beautiful, natural setting.

“We have spent the past two years now watching family after family enter the pavilion and then go to our archway to make treasured family photos,” he says. “This additional traffic has certainly increased the exposure of the new cremation products and grief resources we have available. There is rarely a week that goes by that someone doesn’t comment about the beauty and serenity of the whole project.”

For his part, Gerardo remains humble and yet quietly proud of what his ingenious creations have provided for his grateful clients.

“We ask our clients what is it that they want to do and to unleash their imagination, we truly listen to them and study the available space we have to work with,” he says. “We are not cookie-cutter designers; every design is uniquely created for that particular space with all its variables and challenges.”

Perhaps one of the unique aspects of Gerardo’s business model is his ability to take what would otherwise be considered dead space or ground that is too small or oddly shaped to be otherwise utilized. As the commitment to having all his products manufactured in the United States.

“Our goal is to maximize our client’s real estate and ROI. There are thousands and thousands of square feet of what seems to be unusable space at cemeteries around the country, which with our In-Ground Niche, we have been able to help utilize it and make it profitable,” he says.

Susan Cushing is a freelance writer for Memento Mori.

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