Ardmore parks department struggles to find summer help

Drew Butler
The Daily Ardmoreite
An American flag flies among graves at Rose Hill Cemetery while some markers are hidden behind tall grass Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. The parks department has struggled to find seasonal help this summer to help maintain the city cemeteries.

Across the nation employers are struggling to fill open positions, and southern Oklahoma is not immune to the struggle. Many fast food restaurants and shops all have signs advertising help wanted, and even local government is having a hard time with staffing. 

One of the departments hardest hit by a labor shortage is the Parks and Recreation Department who rely on seasonal staff to help maintain the 13 parks, facilities such as the water park and the clubhouse, the streetscape project, and local cemeteries. Director Teresa Ervin said out of the 12 positions budged for the summer, only four are currently filled. The city has recently raised the pay to $12 an hour, the highest its ever been, for the 40 hour per week job.

A fallen headstone at Rose Hill Cemetery lays partially buried among tall grass Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

"We have really been struggling this summer with seasonal help," Ervin said. "We pay what I think is a fair wage, but we just can't seem to get people who want to work. We haven't had a full crew all summer, and we've always been short somewhere."

Ervin said even when people are hired, many quit soon after. Some even leave after their morning break or right after lunch. Others simply set their equipment down and walk off the job.

One of the areas hardest hit by this shortage are the city cemeteries. The park is responsible for keeping the grounds at the 109 acre Rose Hill Cemetery, the 39 acre Clearview Cemetery and the opening and closing of graves at two private cemeteries.

The entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

"Our full-time cemetery crew consists of two equipment operators, one supervisor and one secretary," Ervin said. "In the month of July we had eight days that they could have uninterrupted mowing and weed eating, and the rest of the days we were either digging graves or had burials. Eight days in a month is not enough to get everything done without seasonal help."

Ervin said in addition to the lack of staff, the summer's rain has also created additional challenges caused by quicker growing grass and areas that retain water. The cemeteries also pose an additional challenge because all of the headstones have to be edged and the headstones' lack of uniform sizing causes the mowing to go even more slowly.

Tall grass collects raindrops near a headstone at Rose Hill Cemetery Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

To help remedy this problem, Ervin said she pulls park employees from other areas whoever possible to help catch up on the cemeteries, but things can still go slowly. She urged anyone who sees any issues to call her at the park office at 580-221-3262 to discuss their concerns.