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When Charlie Gleason assumed the role of Executive Vice President of Lake View Cemetery in 1939, he asked the landscape designer, Pete Knight, what he needed to do to make Lake View a “happy place”. The answer was simple; “Plant, plant, plant!”
Having served as the first male president of the former Garden Center of Greater Cleveland (a.k.a. Cleveland Botanical Garden & now Holden Forests & Gardens), Charlie understood the value of spectacular blooms and what a treasure they would be to Lake View’s 285 acres.
Prior to working at Lake View, Charlie had been the head of a bank. When the Great Depression took hold, all of the banks were shuttered. As he searched for new work, he realized he did not want to handle people’s money anymore. His friend, John Dempsey, was on the Board of Lake View and knowing Charlie’s love for horticulture, invited him to consider running the cemetery. Once onboard, Charlie took Pete’s advice and the two executed an ambitious program introducing thousands of flowering trees, bulbs, and shrubs into the largely monochromatic landscape. If you visit Lake View you will find that their vision has been maintained and enhanced throughout the cemetery, with Daffodil Hill becoming one of Lake View’s most popular attractions.
Charlie’s daughter, Caroline Oberndorf, and her husband, Ed, reminisce about Charlie and his time governing Lake View with fondness and with great pride. “My father was a people person,” Caroline remembers, “When he spoke to you it was as if you were the only person in the room.” Ed lovingly interjects, “I think you got your personality from him, Caroline. I’m a lucky man!”
Notably, Caroline recalls that the labor workers hired under Charlie adored him. “Most were from Little Italy,” Caroline explained, “We would be invited to so many feasts and Italian holidays. It was wonderful!”
“The Euclid gate guard and my father taught me how to drive on those winding roads,” Caroline says with an impish smile.
Caroline spent most of her teen years on the cemetery grounds. “The Euclid gate guard and my father taught me how to drive on those winding roads,” Caroline says with an impish smile. “I guess they thought it was a pretty safe place to learn. It wasn’t like I was going to hurt anybody.” The day she got her license, the laborers met her with cheers and applause as she drove by their building.
Caroline reflects on the day of her father’s funeral in 1956. “My father designed the space where he is buried in Section 9, Lot 60, to mimic a small country cemetery.
On the day of the funeral, I was doing just fine until I glanced up the hill overlooking the funeral. I saw all the workers, side-by-side, observing the service with their handkerchiefs in hand. They were so fond of my father that they all showed up to say goodbye.”
Ed and Caroline will eventually join Charlie as residents of Lake View but not any time soon. “We’ve been married sixty-two years,” Caroline reveals. Ed’s eyes sparkle as he looks at her, “We met on a blind date and we’re still dating!”
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