Courthouse comes to cemetery

By JOHN MATUSZAK - Assistant Local News Editor Aug 30, 2010

Family finds the perfect element for monument: 2 columns from old St. Joe courthouse.

COLOMA - Karol Stanisz started out searching for a cemetery monument for her father, Edward McKie.

"He insisted he wanted to see his tombstone before he died," said Stanisz, who lives in Coloma along with most of her family.

She ended up preserving a piece of local history while honoring her family's legacy.

St. Joe Monument Works, under the direction of co-owner Bill Cooper, last week erected the McKie family monument at Coloma Cemetery. The monument includes the two front granite columns of the original St. Joseph courthouse, dating from 1896. The monument also includes the capitals, or carved portions, of the columns.

Including the base, the entire structure stands about 8 feet tall.

The columns have been standing outside Cooper's shop in Benton Harbor some 15 years. He obtained them from a Berrien County Historical Society member, who had them sitting behind his barn.

They were entrusted to Cooper with the understanding that, if they were sold, part of the proceeds would go to the historical society.

And there they stood for a decade and a half until Karol Stanisz came along. She had taken over her father's quest to find a suitable stone, but he was getting impatient.

"He said, 'I can't wait any longer. I'm 82,' " Stanisz said.

When she spotted the courthouse columns "I thought, wow, that would be a way to have something with historical value to honor my family."

As she talked to Cooper,

she further realized the historical significance of the remnants of the once-grand edifice that was demolished during the 1960s.

"What a pity they tore that thing down," said Cooper, whose company has created monuments to police and veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam along the St. Joseph bluff. "If they would have left it, it would be the crown jewel of St. Joseph."

The stone hadn't been harmed by exposure to the elements, so it didn't take much to get the columns into shape, Cooper said. He carved a base using the same color of Vermont granite. The capitals are made of Indiana limestone, carved in Ionic style.

It is now the tallest monument in the contemporary section of the cemetery. Hasse's Towing Service of Benton Harbor helped place the monument.

It stands as the centerpiece of the family plot, which has 20 grave sites , Stanisz said.

When her father, who had his eye on a 3-foot stone, saw the columns, "He had tears in his eyes," Stanisz said.

"It is beyond my expectations. I didn't think it would look that nice," Edward McKie said.

Her mother, Nancy McKie, said she was "dumbfounded. It's something you don't see every day."

Designing the monument had become a family project.

"It was an adventure. It was fun," Stanisz said. "We laughed. We talked. There was no sadness. You can take your time when you're not grieving, you're not in a hurry."

Cooper's wife, Genie, his partner in St. Joe Monument, created the design for the monument.

The base includes the insignias of the many organizations that the McKie family has served for three generations. Edward McKie served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Stanisz's brothers, Mark and Tim, served in the Marine Corps, Mark as part of the presidential helicopter squad. Both are with the Berrien County Sheriff's Department, Mark full time with the bomb squad and Tim as a reserve officer. Stanisz's son, Ken, is retired from the Air Force, and her sister, Karen McKie, is with the Nashville office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

A maple leaf honors her mother's Canadian heritage. Swags with Celtic crosses and thistles signify her father's Scottish background. There is also a Masonic symbol for the elder McKie and his three sons, Mark, Tim and Joe, a vice president with Winn-Dixie supermarkets in Jacksonville, Fla. All are Masons.

The family was pleasantly surprised to learn that the stone for the columns had been fashioned by Scottish stonecutters in Barre, Vt,, providing another link to the family's ancestral homeland.

"It's a little bit of all of us," Stanisz said.

A porcelain tile set in the back of the monument displays a photo of the courthouse and an explanation of where the columns came from.

Erecting the monument is a homecoming of sorts. The McKie kids used to play in the Coloma Cemetery, and you can see their parents' home from there when the leaves are off the trees.

Stanisz praised Cooper for being "ever so patient, ever so kind" during the lengthy design process.

The McKies bought the columns for $1,500 each, which Stanisz called "a steal. They're worth a whole lot more."

Cooper will donate $2,000 of that amount to the Berrien County Historical Society.

He admitted that he will miss having the landmarks in front of his business.

"My wife said, 'It looks so bare out there,' " Cooper said. "You see them every day, you get used to them, but when they're gone there's a big gap out there. I guess I'll have to plant a tree."

(See orginal story here)