An Opportunity to Serve: Apopka’s Bay Ridge Cemetery is in desperate need of your help


Nature has begun to reclaim Bay Ridge Cemetery.

By Yasmene Warren, intern correspondent with The Apopka Voice

Bay Ridge Cemetery is a little slice of local history.

Located in the Apopka countryside just off the Plymouth-Sorrento road, it is home to around 100 graves dating back to the area’s earliest origins. Bay Ridge is the resting place of several prominent Apopkan families and veterans of many foreign wars. It’s also in the middle of an emerging part of northwest Orange County, with the Wekiva Parkway, new homes, and even a Publix nearby.

But despite its importance, Bay Ridge has become almost unrecognizable as a graveyard. Weeds and uncut grass cover many markers. Other parts smashed headstones completely submerged by decades of growing trees, palms and thick brush.

Nature is reclaiming this land.

Fortunately, some people in the community want to bring Bay Ridge back to its original state.

Bridget Bangerter-Tarassenko, a resident of Orange County, first saw the cemetery while taking her son on one of their outdoor adventures – a walk in the woods. What she saw shocked her.

“When I came across the cemetery, I was saddened,” Bangerter-Tarassenko said. “I lived in Ohio, where every city has keepers for every cemetery, big or small. I was shocked to see this cemetery in such a devastating state.

There are state laws requiring cemeteries to be maintained and maintained at all times. Section 704.08 of the Florida Statute states that if the owner of a cemetery refuses or fails to maintain it, the parents and descendants of those in it have a right to care for it.

Linna Weatherman is the owner of the Bay Ridge location and has relatives in the cemetery. Weatherman was married to James Weatherman, daughter of Blanche Schopke and granddaughter of Walter Neal Schopke and Linna Bryan Schopke, all of whom are deceased. Her husband and grandparents are all buried in Bay Ridge Cemetery.

The voice of Apopka could not reach Weatherman for comment on the condition of the cemetery despite numerous attempts.

Bangerter-Tarassenko is passionate about history and said her sadness over the condition of the cemetery led her to the Apopkans Museum to learn more about Bay Ridge. She also gained attention on social media and took action to get the work done.

She almost organized an event to clean up the cemetery, but eventually ran into some stumbling blocks.

Bangerter-Tassenko said she had enlisted the help of the Boy Scouts, VFW and local volunteers to clean up the site. She contacted Waste Management, made arrangements for dumpsters and porta-pots to be available. She contacted Sam’s Club and Porkie’s Original BBQ to provide food and water for the volunteers.

Ultimately, the plan ran into liability issues over maintaining burial sites without a living relative of someone being buried at the cemetery.

“I did what I could, I got people’s attention,” said Bangerter-Tarassenko.

She also brought the condition of the cemetery to the attention of Apopka Town Commissioner Kyle Becker, who spoke about it at a city council meeting in June, and is in the process of taking another photo during of this cleanup event.

Becker said he had contacted the office of Orange County Commissioner Christine Moore to try to see if they could form a partnership to maintain the cemetery, but nothing has yet been arranged.

Moore could not be reached for comment, despite several attempts.

“I think it would be a good volunteer effort to clean it up initially, but it’s the ongoing maintenance that becomes an issue,” Becker said at the meeting.

Becker said he plans to have community groups clean up the cemetery and try to establish a maintenance schedule or volunteer effort to keep it in good condition.

“The ultimate goal is to have a cemetery where people can go and pay homage permanently,” Becker said.

An opportunity to serve:

Much of Apopka’s story resides in Bay Ridge Cemetery, and the efforts of people like Bangerter-Tarassenko and Becker shouldn’t end in frustration.

Becker referred to a state law, article 497.284, Florida Statutes, which authorizes a county or municipality to maintain and secure a cemetery that is abandoned or that has not been maintained for more than six months. Private funds may be requested and spent for this maintenance, and these efforts are exempt from civil liability or penalties related to damage to the property maintained. Finally, the county or municipality can sue the owner of the property to recover the costs.

Becker said he plans to have community groups clean up the cemetery and try to establish a maintenance schedule or volunteer effort to keep it in good condition.

When this event has a date, The voice of Apopka post it on our news site and post it on social media. If you would like to attend this event or make a donation for the cleaning and maintenance of Bay Ridge, please email us at [email protected]

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