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Miller: Rebuilding the Camelback Cemetery fence


Perhaps you have noticed the chain link fence around our town’s historic Camelback Cemetery at 6914 E. McDonald Drive, directly across from Kiva Elementary School?

I am a local Paradise Valley resident and walk and drive by the cemetery regularly. The cemetery is located directly across the street from Kiva grade school, which is undergoing an extensive renovation. The cemetery has an old and uninviting chain link fence. It stands in stark contrast to the vibrant, state-of-the-art school being remodeled across the street. Which is why, I thought it was time to find some like-minded residents who wanted to beautify the front of Camelback Cemetery.

When trying to figure out where to start, some PV friends suggested I call Councilmember Julie Pace because they had worked with her before and they said she was great and willing to roll up her sleeves and get projects done. So, I called Councilmember Pace and introduced myself and told her what I had in mind.

Julie to her credit has lived up to my friend’s endorsement. To be honest, once I shared the idea with Julie, she made everything else happen. We discussed options regarding the type of fencing and what would look attractive. Next, Julie met with Jo Ann Hadley, who manages the cemetery, to obtain permission to move forward with a proposal for new wrought iron fencing and gates.

It was Julie’s idea to go with stone columns and wrought iron between the columns, so rather than wall the cemetery in completely, this still allows passerbys to see the cemetery — which was important to the ownership.

The next step was to find an architect and design it. Julie stepped in again and found our architect. She reached out to Tim Keneipp, an architect friend of hers, and he offered to donate his services to create the design and complete architectural drawings. He did a great job. His plans celebrate the history of the cemetery and the design is very attractive and aesthetically pleasing. He even included the outline of Camelback Mountain at the entrance and incorporated the cemetery’s name.

As I said, I called Councilmember Julie Pace and asked her for assistance in beautifying the front of the cemetery. I did not know Julie before I called her. She jumped in even though she has a lot on her plate (she is an experienced attorney for companies specializing in construction and employment matters, a current PV council member, and running for mayor of PV). I can say without hesitation, that without her help this project would still be just an idea.

As a neighbor of the cemetery, I am excited to see this remodeling of the front of the cemetery and the respect it will show the community has for this humble and special place. The timing for a new cemetery fence is good since the Kiva construction is well underway.

In the meantime, my son, Cameron Miller, joined in this volunteer effort and met with construction companies to obtain bids for replacing the fence and materials.

This cemetery is important to our community not only because it is across from our newly remodeled grade school, but also because it is historically significant as well. The cemetery was opened in 1915, when the land was donated by Hans and Mary Weaver to the Camelback Cemetery Association. It is one of the oldest cemeteries in the state and has a number of historically important, early settlers buried there.

If the new stone gate and wrought fence gets built, it would be fitting to honor the cemetery with a bronze plaque providing passersbys with an overview of this historically significant cemetery.

So, please consider joining us if you’d like to see the old chain-link fence removed and see a new wrought iron fence with stone columns. If you are willing to donate, we need to raise approximately $100,000 (we think it can be done for less but would rather under promise and over deliver, as they say) to replace the existing fence and gates.

Because it is a one-time project, we are not in a position to set up a 501(C)3, so there will unfortunately, not be a tax deduction for donations. Please consider donating anyway. You’ll be helping commemorate the history of our community, as well as improve the aesthetics of the cemetery right next to our new school.

Councilmember Julie Pace also has started a checking account, so please mail or deliver donation checks payable to: Camelback Cemetery, c/o Julie Pace, 5501 E. Solano Drive, Paradise Valley, Arizona 85253.

Please consider contributing to this worthwhile community project.