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TAKING IT TO THE GRAVE: Otsego boy launches unique summer business

"Nobody should have a dirty headstone." - Navene Town

OTSEGO, Mich. — There are some great summer jobs that exist for kids to consider doing during the summer months. Lawn mowing, lemonade stands, dog walking and babysitting are among the many. 

What about gravestone cleaning?

An Allegan County fifth grader has become quite the "Good Cemeterian," and his eagerness to clean has allowed him to launch a unique summer business.

In the late summer of 2018, Navene Town became interested in learning more about his ancestry. Navene and his grandmother started researching online and discovered that Navene was a descendant of a man named Oka Town who was Allegan County's first judge.

Credit: Sherrie Town
Oka Town was Allegan County's first judge. He died in 1895 and was buried in Otsego's Mountain Home Cemetery.

He died on March 24, 1895.

"Navene really wanted to go to the cemetery and see Oka's headstone," said Sherrie Town, Navene's grandmother. 

The two made the short trip to Otsego's Mountain Home Cemetery where Oka Town is buried. 

"His headstone was so dirty," said Navene, 10, who is going to be a fifth grader at Washington Street Elementary School in Otsego. "Nobody should have a dirty headstone."

As Navene and his grandmother were leaving the cemetery, he decided he wanted to clean Oka's gravestone.

"I went online and and started researching what we needed to clean headstones," said Sherrie. "We reached out to the Good Cemeterian where we learned we needed to buy D/2 Biological Solution."

Along with some brushes, cloths and water bottles, Navene cleaned Oka's headstone. When he finished, it looked like it did when it was placed in the cemetery 124 years prior.

"We figured out that the whole row [of graves] next to Oka were his family members so I started cleaning those, too," said Navene. "All of them were covered in dirt and moss."

After he finished cleaning those, Navene wanted to know where more of his relatives are buried in the cemetery so he could see if they needed cleaning, too.

"We found several more relatives in the cemetery," said Sherrie. "We'd bring Navene back whenever he wanted to so he could keep cleaning the graves."

In the spring of 2019, a close friend of the family heard about Navene's grave cleaning and wanted to hire him to clean some graves for them.

"It was at that point we thought there may be a need for this," said Sherrie. "So, Navene put together a business plan."

Navene's grandfather, Larry Town, decided he'd help him with financing.

They named the business: Navene Cleans Headstones.

"My target age is 50-plus because they have more money and more busy schedules," said Navene.

Credit: WZZM
After being asked by family friends to clean headstones for them, Navene Town decided to launch a summer business: Navene Cleans Headstones.

Navene had a local graphic artist create a logo and put it on business cards.

"[Navene and the graphic artist] bartered over the payment [for creating the logo] so they decided Navene will clean a headstone for him in return for the logo," said Sherrie.

"His goal is to clean every gravestone in Mountain Home Cemetery," added Sherrie. "He likes spending time there."

According to the sexton at Mountain Home Cemetery, there are 8,500 known burial locations.

"My Nana doesn't want me to do every headstone, only the ones I get called for," said Navene. "I like seeing the dirty become clean again, and in the process, I get to learn history about my family tree."

So, if you plan to visit Mountain Home Cemetery, there's no need to wonder if the ginger-haired kid sporting the cool sunglasses while pulling a cart full of chemicals behind him belongs there or not.

He most certainly belongs there because 'Navene Cleans Headstones' is a business on a mission: to make what's old look new again.

Credit: WZZM
Navene cleans two of his ancestors' gravestones who both died in the 1800s. For the first time in over a century, the engravings can be read.

"Somebody purchased that headstone for them because they thought they were worth it," said Sherrie. "[Navene] wants to keep it clean because he thinks they're worth it."

If you'd like to hire 'Navene Cleans Headstones' to clean some graves on Mountain Home Cemetery, you can email Navene directly at NaveneCleansHeadstones@gmail.com.

Or, you can direct message him through his Facebook page.

Navene is charging $20 per grave. He says he's putting some of the money into savings and the rest is used to continue purchasing the supplies he needs to keep cleaning.

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