The last few years at Oakwood Cemetery have seen many improvements and enhanced community outreach. The Oakwood Cemetery Association Board of Directors and Oakwood Cemetery Heritage Foundation Board have worked diligently to raise awareness of our beautiful cemetery, to invite the community for our annual events, and to educate area residents about the interesting people who rest with us.

Behind the scenes, the office has become a highly organization machine, our financials have become even healthier, and we have put in place staff members who really do incredible work – especially in these challenging times. We also enjoy important partnerships with our local funeral directors, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, and our local groups who represent veterans, scouts, and students.

One of our newest and quietest accomplishments in the past two years has been the replacement of our crematory. This largest capital project in the history of Oakwood and was funded 100% by the Association and was spearheaded by President Ralph Aversa and the late Vice President Whitney Mallam. People don’t like to think about cremation, but really, let’s be practical. Someday, something will have to happen to our remains. That’s a fact.

Our previous crematory was housed in the old chapel just inside the entrance to Oakwood. It ran on oil, was more than 60 years old, and was a pretty cramped space. It was not terribly efficient for the environment, the staff who perform the sacred work, or funeral directors.

Our new, natural gas-powered crematory is located on the right side of the property and features a comfortable viewing area to accommodate those whose religion mandates that they observe the process, or for those who simply wish to do so. That process itself is state of the art, dignified, and virtually sterile. Funeral directors can pull up to the doors, protecting the deceased from weather, while ensuring privacy.

At no time do our employees – Shane Sayer and David Crosby — have to do any lifting. Decedents enter the building on a wheeled table in appropriate caskets. Once in the crematory itself, settings are adjusted based on the size of the individual, and a computerized program — monitored at all times virtually by the manufacturer – takes over. On conclusion, remaining material is swept into a clean, airtight box and returned to the funeral director or buried accord to the family’s wishes or the instructions left by the deceased.

It is helpful to understand a few things about cremation to appreciate how big an improvement this is.

First off, those are not ashes in that urn on your mantle. It is bone dust. There are no ashes. Who would want ashes?

Secondly, cremation is as old as death and a perfectly loving decision to make for a loved one. Compare your options: none are especially pleasant to consider.

Cremains take up less land than traditionally buried bodies and so are environmentally friendlier. After all, there are 330 million people in the U.S. alone. If we each stake out land six feet by three feet by eight feet to occupy in perpetuity, how long will any land remain to live on or farm?

Cremation can be more economical and is fast becoming the preferred method of final disposition in this country.

There is virtually no emission from this process. Using our old crematory, it was easy to see when the apparatus was in use. Not so anymore. Neighbors, rest easy.

Now some people will of course continue to choose traditional burial and Oakwood is proud to provide that service as well. But we are happy to share with you that Oakwood remains relevant and modern even as we honor our past.

A final note: in the past two years, society has rightly recognized medical professionals, retail workers and others who have provided essential services during the pandemic. We would be remiss not to also recognize Mr. Sayer, Mr. Crosby, our local funeral directors and clergy, who have faced this time in a more intimate way. They are to be thanked for the most precious services they provide in the most challenging times.

Oakwood Chronicles is a monthly feature about some of the more famous residents — and employees — at Oakwood Cemetery. For more information, visit

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