By Mark Morane
Schnepf Farms, a Queen Creek location known for farm-themed weddings, pumpkin festivals, giant hay mazes, fresh peaches and other family events, might seem like an unusual place to think about burying your relatives.
“We are not necessarily known for the cemetery; we are known for our agritainment,” said owner Mark Schnepf. “Some people thought ‘gosh why are you building a graveyard?'”
“It’s been in the works for many years,” Schnepf said, explaining that his father envisioned a cemetery for Queen Creek as early as the 1970s, but “never did it.”
And as land became more and more valuable in Queen Creek, young Schnepf and his wife Carrie realized that no one would ever build a cemetery when land could be sold, subdivided and sold to the highest bidder, usually home builders. .
Being one of the largest landowners in the state, Schnepf had the luxury of doing something for the community and his descendants – not for the quick buck.
“The thing is, every community needs a really good, beautiful place to place loved ones who have passed away,” Schnepf said. “A close place. An affordable place. A beautiful, peaceful and safe place.
“So that’s what Carrie and I created here in this corner of Schnepf Farms.”
Schnepf’s story is personal. Because her father was unable to see his vision come to fruition and have a cemetery built in Queen Creek, her parents are buried in Mesa. As a result, Schnepf does not visit their burial sites as often as he would like.
So in 2013, Schnepf finally acted on what he thought was a dire need for the people of Queen Creek.
He created this long cemetery dream, San Tan Memorial Gardens at Schnepf Farms, on 7 acres of land on the southeast corner of the 5,000 acre farm.
“We already have just under 1,500 burials in the cemetery,” Memorial Gardens director Dillon Benavides said. “We have been doing funerals since 2013.
And room for many more. There are wide stretches of manicured bright green grass surrounded by park benches, all under a canopy of mature trees.
With this phase of the cemetery complete and with the trend moving away from in-ground burial, Schnepf partnered with individuals as well as Gateway Bank.
They donated $2 million to dedicate phase two of the cemetery, the San Tan Memorial Gardens Mausoleum at Schnepf Farms, billed as the first free-standing structure of its kind built in the Southeast Valley.
“Some families may be uncomfortable with ground burials. Other families like the aesthetic,” Benevides said.
“Or, especially with cremation on the rise, many families prefer instead of burying the urn in a burial vault, they prefer to place it in a mausoleum.”
The mausoleum has room for at least 80 crypts for coffins, 1,200 columbarium niches for placement of cremated remains, family-sized urn niches to accommodate up to eight urns in a single niche, a place of heated and air-conditioned funeral gathering and enhanced security.
Crypts in the mausoleum start at $9,325 and niches at $2,360.
But this cemetery and this mausoleum are not a question of money for Schnepf, at least not in advance.
It could take at least a generation, Schnepf said, to repay the investors who made both phases of the cemetery possible.
But it’s not about Mark Schnepf’s finances. It goes back to his father’s dream of having a place for the people here… to stay there, even after death.
“Being able to stay here instead of having to go to Mesa is great,” said Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark.
“Back when you lost a loved one, you had to go to Mesa and do the visitation there, the ceremony up there, it’s so wonderful to be able to stay here in the community.”
Due to the way Schnepf has structured the partnership, it has the added benefit of keeping the land in the family and out of the hands of the promoters.
“$2 million is what it will cost to build this building,” Schnepf said. “And then we will sell the niches and the plots over 10 years, 15 years, however long it takes to fill them and over that period we will get our loan paid back to the bank and there will be a profit at the end of 10 or 15. We don’t know.
The mausoleum should be finished in about seven months.
“You want to have a sacred place and a final sacred resting place for your family members in times of need, so it is imperative that we provide space,” said Dr. Vernet Joseph, pastor of Mountain View Church. , who celebrated several funerals here. .
“You don’t want to keep people 50 miles from town or community to have a place to rest.”
The San Tan Memorial Gardens Mausoleum is located at 22425 E. Cloud Road, Queen Creek. Information: 480-987-2488