By Charlie Kanet
The year 1990 was a big one. The first episode of The Simpsons aired on FOX-TV, an ozone hole was discovered over the North Pole, we went to war in Kuwait, and Stan Spitler, a recent graduate of Clark State College, started working at Ferncliff Cemetery.
That first job entailed grounds work and escorting funerals from the front gate to the gravesite. But Spitler didn’t remain in that starter role long. A year later he was appointed Assistant Superintendent, a position which included sales, ground crew supervision, gravesite set-up and mausoleum/columbarium internment.
So you could literally say that Spitler, who has been Ferncliff’s Superintendent since 2003, learned the business from the ground up.
Bringing the Cemetery into Modern Times
“Age at 40, I inherited a bookkeeper who was over 60 and a secretary who was over 80,” Spitler recalls, “so my first task as Superintendent was hiring two new assistants: one for grounds, and one for the office.
“Ferncliff was frozen in the 1950s in terms of facilities, equipment and procedures, so I spearheaded the introduction of computers, a modern financial system, a cemetery mapping system, and some much-needed building renovations.”
Spitler introduced tours for the public in 2003, then set his sights on a Master Plan. “We put together a grounds design that the board and I could work together on for the next 12 years,” he explains.
Tireless work brought the plan to fruition bit by bit, enhancing Ferncliff’s 240 acres of historic and picturesque grounds with new and renovated lakes, fountains, creeks, streams and waterfalls.
An Arboretum with a Unique Tree
By 2007, the cemetery had been transformed to such a degree, the new name, Ferncliff Cemetery and Arboretum, was apt. That same year, a tree was discovered on the grounds that had not been found anywhere else in the United States.
“We named it the DiamondBark Beech Ferncliff and registered the name with the US Patent Office,” says Spitler. The tree has been propagated and is now growing in Oregon.
Planning for Disruption
As it became clear that more and more people were preferring cremation to burial, Spitler led Ferncliff to adapt to the trend. The first 160 cremation niches were built in 2008, with an ash scattering garden developed in 2007. An additional 300 niches were added in 2012.
Ferncliff added a crematory and viewing room in 2012, a funeral home in 2016, and the House of Reflections, a climate-controlled indoor space for visiting cremation urns displayed in glass-front niches, in 2018.
In the fall of 2020, Spitler will begin his third decade with the cemetery, where he has served the community of Springfield more than half his life. “We have more developments in the works,” says Spitler, who is eager to continue serving Springfield, with fully coordinated care from the time of one’s passing to their final resting place.
“I am proud of the serene oasis that the Ferncliff Cemetery, Funeral Home, Crematory and Arboretum has become,” he notes. “Those who have passed rest peacefully, and their loved ones have a quiet, welcoming place for remembrance and reflection.”