Tyrone Heppard/contributing photographer
Called The Dixie Chicks, Marathon Cemetery Superintendent Kate Auchmoody, left, and Barb Eustice chat over one of the John Deere mowers they use on the grounds. Auchmoody and Eustice may have little in common with their country music namesakes, but everyone in town refers to them as the Dixie Chicks. Friends for the last 11 years, the two work at keeping the cemetery grounds looking presentable for families and visitors.
MARATHON — Outside of the fact that they occasionally sing a country song or two when they’re mowing the Marathon Cemetery on the back of their matching John Deere tractors, Kate Auchmoody and Barb Eustice have little in common with their namesakes.
Everyone in town refers to them as the Dixie Chicks.
“All of a sudden, we came up as the Dixie Chicks,” Auchmoody said, “And we’re like, how the heck did that happen?”
It’s strange — especially since there’s only two of them and there are three members of the famous country music group. But during a lunch break Friday morning, they said their boss, Milton Parker, started calling them that out of the blue one day and, for one reason or another, it stuck.
“That’s what everyone in Marathon calls us,” Eustice said.
Auchmoody and Eustice have been friends for the last 11 years. They have spent the last year of that friendship maintaining the cemetery grounds and keeping it looking presentable for families and visitors.
Eustice said Auchmoody, the cemetery supervisor who cut her teeth doing work at the Cortland Rural Cemetery years ago, had been trying to get her to come up and lend a hand as an assistant for years. She finally took her up on her offer around this time last year.
“I loved it,” Eustice said. “Honestly, I didn’t know how much work it involved. It is not an easy task.”
So now, five days a week, in their fluorescent-colored tank tops, the women are in the cemetery doing everything from lawn care and maintenance to directing people to the many plots on the property, installing gravestones, preparing graves and digging holes for cremation interments.
Just because it’s hard work doesn’t mean there aren’t any perks. Being outside all the time is definitely better than being cooped up indoors all day and it’s relatively peaceful work.
Both Auchmoody and Eustice said they tend to have a great time with each other, soaking up the sun and getting their hands dirty. And Town Supervisor Tom Adams said it seems residents have taken notice of all their hard work.
“I’ve heard plenty that the cemetery has never looked better,” Adams said. “We don’t usually think of the cemetery as a wonderful place, but they have made it into a very beautiful piece of land with the care that they’ve given it.”
Unfortunately, there is a chance that their jobs might not be around that much longer.
Eustice and Auchmoody are paid with revenue the Marathon Cemetery Association generates from lot sales and burial fees but recently, there hasn’t been much activity on that front.
“The beginning of April was our last full body (burial) and the beginning of May was our last cremation,” Auchmoody said. “That’s it and we’re almost in July. We’d normally have at least 10 to 15 (burials) by now. It’s a big concern.”
“I can’t even tell you how long I’m going to be here,” Eustice added. “I’d hate to leave.
The Marathon Cemetery isn’t unique in this regard — cemeteries across the state are struggling to deal with similar staff shortages and cuts in revenue.
There’s a chance the Marathon Cemetery Association can convince the state to allow the town access to a pot of money made up of the portion of the cemetery’s interment fees over the years. The fund is to be used for maintenance when the cemetery reaches capacity and closes.
But accessing the funds is not guaranteed and failure to staff and maintain the cemetery means the town would be mandated by the state to take it over and, with the municipality already on a shoestring budget, there is no guarantee they could keep Auchmoody and Eustice on staff or find people as good to replace them.
Therefore, Adams said instead of turning to the state, which he views as a temporary fix, he is encouraging residents to lend a hand by making small donations to the cemetery to keep it open.
“If the town ends up having to take it over, there’s no way we could make it look like they make it look,” Adams said. “My plea is for the citizens … to take initiative and try to help any way they can. If everybody did a little, it could turn into a lot.”
Despite fiscal pressures, though, Auchmoody and Eustice tend to focus on taking pride in their work. All of that’s easy to do when you have the support of an entire town.
The sunshine and the peace and quiet help, too.
“It’s really a laid-back job,” Auchmoody said. “You kind of come in and do what you do and you go home. I love my job.”