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Perseverance and faith

A cemetery owner said it was not easy starting a new life as a divorced mother of four children in Jamestown 52 years ago. But, Geraldine Krebsbach, 84, Jamestown, still works part time as the registered agent and board president of Sunset Memorial Gardens of Jamestown Inc., a nonprofit cemetery founded in 1955 that she has managed since 1965.

"I was a small operator when I started out and tried to build the name," Krebsbach said. "I'm proud of saving it and holding on to it."

It was her faith in the Lord and perseverance that kept her going, as well as her children and the investment Krebsbach made in the property, she said.

"I wasn't going to give up," Krebsbach said. "I am a blabbermouth and that is one of the things that kept me going."

The past four years have been difficult for Krebsbach after two broken hips and eight surgeries.

"I've been a little behind, but I can tell you every case in those files," she said.

There were three land purchases since 1955 that total 30 acres for the cemetery today, she said. As of April the cemetery has had 2,683 total burials since the first burial of a 17-year-old boy on Jan. 24, 1956, she said.

At the time the idea behind Sunset Memorial Gardens was to create a park-like setting for a cemetery, she said. All graves at Sunset Memorial Gardens have flat markers to give the cemeteries a garden feel and to discourage extravagance, she said.

"There are bigger markers but you can't tell it when you drive through," she said.

The newest section of half plots are for cremation burials, she said. Another portion has not been developed yet, she said.

All Souls Prairie Chapel was brought to Sunset Memorial Gardens in 2005. The former Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church was built in 1898 and served the Fried community until the Diocese of Fargo closed the parish in 2004.

"I had always wanted a prayer chapel and it holds more than 200 people," she said.

The options were to sell it, tear it down or burn it, she said. The chapel is used for prayer services and weddings, she said.

Originally from Iowa, Krebsbach said she was a homemaker until her husband ran off with another woman. The family never received support or saw him again, she said.

She went to work in the Fargo office of Sunset Memorial Gardens, an Iowa-based corporation with cemeteries in Minnesota, South Dakota and Jamestown, Bismarck and Minot in North Dakota. She said a Canadian company built Sunset Memorial Gardens in Valley City and in Moorhead, Minn.

Starting out in Jamestown, Krebsbach said she moved into an older house that was hard to heat and recalls making her own bread, joining clubs and learning that competition can be ruthless.

"I had a lot of opposition against me," she said.

The only way to survive was to be strong and independent, she said. She could operate a backhoe, pour her own vaults and maintained the grounds with her children's help.

Starting her own grave excavation and vault service resulted in lawsuits from competitors, she said. The legal battles and banking regulations in the 1980s culminated in losing a home of 23 years, she said.

"I have a file cabinet of cancellations," she said. "We took a big, bad dent and a lot of it was from talk."

Krebsbach said she testified twice at the North Dakota Legislature in 1973 and 1975 against bills that would have put her out of business. She helped write a law making the sale of two lots result in a deed and to set 50 percent of two-vault and marker purchases into a trust until there is a death certificate.

Krebsbach will still set her pains aside to work on her 200 new hedges at Sunset Memorial Gardens or if she spots a dandelion on the grounds.

When she's not working, Krebsbach enjoys creating new photos albums.

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