WEST PEORIA — More than 40 people attended a memorial service for 13 people whose unclaimed cremains were in limbo at the Peoria County Coroner's Office for as long as 32 years. They were laid to rest Thursday at St. Mary’s Cemetery in West Peoria.
Many in attendance were from OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, which worked with Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood to arrange the service. But a fair number of people attended the service simply to pay their respects.
“It appears as though these folks didn’t have anyone to pray for them,” said Jeanne Whalen, of Peoria. “As a citizen, it was my job to come and pray for them.”
Eymarde Lawler of Peoria became emotional while spontaneously reading the 23rd Psalm immediately after Deacon Joe Knapp had finished the service. The reading was not planned, Lawler said later.
“I had my Bible with me and I saw the deacon was finished and I just started reading,” she said. “The Lord was guiding me.”
Lawler’s contribution was a welcome addition, Harwood said after the service.
“It was unplanned, but it was perfect,” he said.
The event is something Harwood has been wanting to do ever since he found a number of containers holding cremains in the coroner’s office shortly after taking over the job late in 2016. Research showed, in some cases, that relatives had been looked for but not found, but most of the remains were just a mystery, and two didn’t even have names. The two unnamed cremains were not included in the burial Thursday because it’s against the law to bury unknown people, Harwood said.
After the memorial service was scheduled and a news release was sent out, word spread through the community and four families stepped forward to claim loved ones.
“One lady came and picked up her great-uncle yesterday,” Harwood said. “She had no idea his remains were unclaimed, which makes this effort so worth it.”
The cremains were carried from the hearse in a plain metal box by six pallbearers. Adorned with a spray of roses and sunflowers, the box was placed beneath the tent where Harwood read the name of each person — Herold Pulliam, Tomah Attaway, William Brown, Daniel R. Harrington, Evelyn Lane, John L. Ridgway, Ruth Cumming, Lois M. Wade, John A Gaddis, Joyce P. Lair, Connie Lewis, Robert Lupfer and Robert Bray.
“No matter where they’ve been in their lives, no matter what they’ve done in their lives, we trust today that God has fully forgiven them,” said Deacon Knapp. “We’re lifting them up and trusting they’ve been restored to the fullness of eternal life.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.