You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.


  • USDA opens 9,600 more acres in Indiana for program
    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal program that rewards farmers for turning some of their land into wildlife habitat has opened up another 9,600 acres of Indiana farmland.
  • St. Joseph County eyes stricter abortion law
    SOUTH BEND – A proposed ordinance that would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital has stalled in a northern Indiana county. A St.
  • Good Samaritan adding devices
    VINCENNES – Money raised through golf tournaments, holiday galas and even motorcycle poker runs goes to buy equipment such as a 3-D breast tomo/stereotactic unit, equipment that in the capable hands of the staff at Good Samaritan

Changes etched in cemeteries

More monuments get personal

– A lot has changed in the monument business during the past couple of decades, and it’s not just the technology that craftsmen use to etch words and images into stone.

Take a stroll through any cemetery, and you’ll notice newer headstones are decorated with far more than traditional flowers and religious symbols.

“In the last decade or two, people are looking for more personalization in memorials. They want to tell a story,” said Carl Kay, who owns Carl Kay Memorials with his wife, Micheline, on South Michigan Street in South Bend.

Peter Anderson has seen the same change. He and Tony McDowell run South Bend Monument Works next to Highland Cemetery and Riverview Cemetery on the city’s northwest side.

“It’s getting to the point where almost every one is personalized,” Anderson told the South Bend Tribune, “and we learn people’s life stories in the process.”

Cows and chickens

Both Kay and Anderson have some perspective on the trend. Kay has been in the business for 39 years; Anderson has been doing it for 38 years.

They’ve engraved stones with images of pets, cars, motorcycles, houses, barns, nature scenes, lighthouses, white-tail deer, baseball diamonds and largemouth bass.

Portraits of the deceased are popular as well.

Anderson said one couple who owned a farm wanted an image of their favorite cow on their headstone. Another man wanted his concrete truck to be included.

“We’ll do just about anything, except we won’t put any naughty words on them – even though we’ve had requests for them,” Anderson said.

“It’s amazing what people want,” he added. “You name it – I’ve put chickens on a stone.”

Kay said one of his customers wanted the phrase “I told you I was sick” on his headstone. The man intended it as a message for his doctor, Kay said.

Anderson said one of his most memorable jobs came from a woman who wanted him to add an airplane to her husband’s headstone.

“I said, ‘Your husband was a pilot?’ She said, ‘No, that’s the plane he crashed in,’ ” Anderson recounted.

Machines at work

Kay said technology has made personalizing monuments much easier than it was decades ago, when everything was done by hand with diamond-tipped tools.

Now machines can place intricate images known as laser etchings into the stones.

More stones are being imported from China and India as well, though U.S. stones are still available, too.

Workers at Kay Memorials and South Bend Monument still use stencils and a “sandblasting” process to carve letters into headstones, but they don’t use sand anymore. Kay uses aluminum-oxide BBs to carve lettering and garnet to knock polish off of a stone’s face. South Bend Monument uses a carbide grit to “sandblast” letters and steel shot to knock off the stone polish.

Anderson said South Bend Monument also uses laser etchings, but the company still works with two local artists who engrave portraits and scenes with old-fashioned, diamond-tipped tools.

Still popular

Cremation is becoming more common in the United States, but that hasn’t slowed the monument business. Kay and Anderson said people are continuing to buy memorials for family members.

Kay said Americans like to remember the past.

“That’s why there are monuments in Washington, D.C., and all over the country to remember events that occurred, both good and tragic,” he said.

Micheline Kay added, “A monument is for the living. It’s in memory of the person who passed away, but it’s definitely for the living to remember that person and give them comfort.”