Hawkins Memorial Gardens becomes  community based  non-profit cemetery

After a decade of controversy, ownership in Hawkins County Memorial Gardens has been transferred to HCMG, Inc., a non-profit community based organization. The new ownership takes effect Friday.

The announcement was made in a news release Thursday morning.

In early 2020, HCMG, Inc. was incorporated as a non-profit, community-based organization with the sole intent and purpose of establishing, operating, and maintaining a community cemetery at the existing Hawkins County Memorial Gardens located in Hawkins County.

The Board of Directors consists of Chair Hannah Winegar, Vice-Chair Calvin Clifton, Secretary Jonathan Case and Treasurer Leslie Clifton. Other board members include Damon Drinnon, Job Jarnagin and Ray Peters.

Those owning cemetery plots in Hawkins County Memorial Gardens have suffered through a decade of negative issues, the board said, adding the fallout of the actions and inactions of the prior owners and operators of the cemetery are in the past.

In 2015, former owner Vickie Lynn Ringley was charged with 12 counts, including theft, money laundering, forgery and failure to follow state cemetery regulations. The charges came as a result of almost two years of investigation covering alleged theft and fraud against 370 victims dating to 1992. This also included alleged thefts from 85 victims between July 1, 2012 and April 28, 2014. Ringley was also indicted on seven counts of failure to follow state cemetery regulations — each of which are Class E felonies punishable by 1-2 years; and one count of forgery which is a Class D felony punishable by 2-4 years.

Ringley did not establish a pre-need merchandising and services trust fund and used money intended for that fund on personal expenses. Money intended for the fund was deposited in to Ringley’s personal account.

Ringley, who took over the cemetery in 1992, pled guilty to theft and money laundering.

Ringley’s cemetery license was suspended by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance on Feb. 10, 2014. The cemetery was placed in receivership by the state in December 2014.

According to the release, the board intends to operate and maintain the cemetery in a way as to honor those already interred and those that will be in the future.

The cemetery may also sell the remaining 3,000 plots. Sales have not been possible since the cemetery was placed in receivership. A fee schedule has been established, approved, and enacted by the board. All funds placed in the Perpetual Care trust by the prior owners remain in the trust.

In order to operate the cemetery in an attractive, efficient, and safe manner, rules and fees have been enacted by the board.

All plots presently owned by individuals will not be affected by the transfer of the cemetery to HCMG, Inc.

The available, vacant plots owned by the Hawkins County Memorial Gardens and the previous owners are now property of HCMG, Inc. and will be sold as described.

The net proceeds from these sales and other fees collected will be utilized only for the operation, maintenance, and upkeep of the cemetery, the plots, and common areas including the access road and monuments.

HCMG, Inc. will not and cannot honor any pre-need contingency contracts for grave openings, services or outer burial containers or markers/merchandise purchased through its predecessors. Those claims are separate from HCMG, Inc. and will continue to be addressed by the Hawkins County Criminal Court. For further information, contact: HCMGcemetery@mail.com