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Markers etch family memories in stone

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COLUMBUS — Steve and Jackie Marker want to make a connection when they greet clients at Columbus Monument Co.’s front door.

The impressions they form while talking with clients about their loved ones can find their way into the designs for headstones or monuments that will stir memories and emotions for family members for years to come.

The Markers sit down with people who are feeling the loss of a loved one, and who want to pass along what made them special, their personal qualities and interests in life that made them fun to be around.

“We’re telling a story about a person forever,” said Steve Marker, who bought the more than 70-year-old monument company at 3811 17th St. with his wife Jackie about three years ago.

Steve Marker previously worked at the business for 30-plus years.

A family’s visit to Columbus Monument, which operates within a 65-mile radius of the city, begins with Marker asking where the loved one will be buried.

Cemeteries often have different restrictions on the height and width of monuments and memorials.

“I don’t want a person to pick something they can’t have (at the burial site),” he said.

Next, it’s time for a walk-through of the business’ display area surrounding the office fronting Howard Boulevard. The business has dozens of granite monuments, including an assortment of colors, available.

Then it’s time to visit.

Clients recall memories of their loved one with the Markers, often bringing in family photos or other mementos that weaved the threads of their lives.

“That’s how we get ideas for layout designs (on monuments), we talk to people,” Marker said. “My aunt and uncle loved to dance, so there was an etching of them dancing on the headstone.”

It could be something small, a coffee cup grandma drank from every morning, or a favorite belt buckle that fit just right. It might be a photo of a family homestead going back generations, a cabin by a meandering river or a biker riding his Harley-Davidson down a country road into a late-night depiction of heaven.

“We’re making lasting memories,” said Marker, reciting the company slogan he and Jackie penned when they took over the business.

The Markers get their granite blocks from suppliers in Minnesota, South Dakota, Georgia and Wisconsin. The slabs of granite arrive in Columbus already cut into smaller stones and polished.

People have an image of granite being mined from the slope of a mountain, Marker said. Actually, granite is mined by digging deep into quarries to extract granite deposits, he said.

The business does the sandblasting and engraving on the stone, which involves the deeper-cut lettering and figures, but contracts out for the finer etching of scenes and photos on the polished surface of the stone.

Next up is delivery and installation.

The Markers have a heavy-duty pickup with a hoist mounted in the bed to load and unload the 600- to 1,200-pound blocks of granite.

“Whenever we can, we want to use the truck,” said Marker, adding that the vehicle lowers the risk of damage to the stone and cemetery grounds and injury to himself or his crew members.

A four-wheel cart is then used to haul a stone to the gravesite.

“It doesn’t take much to chip and ruin a stone. It’s kind of like working in a china shop,” Marker said.

Business at Columbus Monument has a couple of definite spikes during the course of a year.

Activity at the business picks up into late spring as the Memorial Day holiday approaches and is frantic again in late fall as winter cold freezes the ground.

Marker's crew includes three part-time employees, two for sandblasting and installation and another for computer design layout.

“I can’t do concrete work (for the monument’s foundation) until the frost is out of the ground,” he said. “I promise everything will get done from Memorial Day until October. We’re going like crazy.”

The Markers have been known to stretch the calendar.

Jackie Marker remembers the time her husband was pushing it to get an early winter job done involving an elderly couple’s wedding anniversary date. A bitter wind was howling at the cemetery, and the family of the deceased couple were thankful for the service.

“Steve’s very passionate about his work,” Jackie Marker said.


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