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Forest Lawn Group acquires St. Matthews Cemetery

St. Matthews Cemetery in West Seneca is now part of Buffalo's Forest Lawn Group.

The area's largest cemetery operator has acquired the 75-acre burial ground at 180 Old French Road from St. Matthews Church of Christ for $1.77 million. Forest Lawn President Joseph P. Dispenza characterized as "a partnership, not just a purchase."

"This arrangement with St. Matthews is an opportunity to share human and capital resources that will make all of us stronger," Dispenza said. "Through this partnership the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts."

The Forest Lawn executive said the ownership change will have only positive impact on lot owners and those with loved ones buried or interred in the West Seneca cemetery.

"The transition will be seamless. The name will not change and lot owners can expect the same level of service and attention to details they have been receiving," Dispenza said.

This marks the third local cemetery acquisition of Forest Lawn has made since 1998, when it bought Lakeside Cemetery in Hamburg. It also purchased the historic Williamsville Cemetery in 2001.

Forest Lawn also acquired an 80-acre site in Clarence in 1996 for future expansion. To date the site has not been developed.

Forest Lawn now controls some 600 acres of cemetery property in Erie County, including its 269-acre namesake in the City of Buffalo.

"Most people don't think about the business side of the cemetery, and they shouldn't have to," Dispenza said. "If we do our job right, when you come to the cemetery all you'll think about is how pretty, peaceful and well-maintained it is."

Dispenza said merger talks with St. Matthews date back about a year. Gary Rich, general manager of St. Matthews, declined to comment on details of the merger, but say he is pleased with the new relationship.

All nine current St. Matthews employees will be retained.

St. Matthews was founded in 1875 to serve members of the St. Matthews congregation, which was originally located on Swan Street in Buffalo. The facility, which has been a nondenominational cemetery for several decades, features a series of burial gardens bearing saint names, as well as, a chapel that seats 75.

One of the best-known gravesites at St. Matthews is of "Old Shep -- the Hermit of Leydecker Road." The transient, who lived alone in a cave along Cazenovia Creek for many years, and later built a shack at the former Kloiber Farm, was a familiar face in West Seneca around the turn of the century.

Old Shep has been memorialized in West Seneca Historical Society display.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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