The city of Charlotte polices the streets, runs buses, collects garbage, paves roads, plants trees and builds sidewalks.
Few know it’s also is in the cemetery business.
Since 1982, that enterprise has been managed by Mike Shroyer, who cared for Charlotte’s six municipal cemeteries. Shroyer, who started working for the city 39 years ago out of high school cutting grass, retired Wednesday.
He has tended the graves of the city’s most famous residents, among them Edward Dilworth Latta, who developed Dilworth, and John Springs Myers, whose dairy farm became Myers Park. Gov. Cameron Morrison is another famous interment, at Elmwood, on West Sixth Street.
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Shroyer built the city’s first columbarium, to keep ashes from cremations.
And he has overseen an increasing number of indigent burials, or “charity” cases as they are described in a hand-written ledger. (There isn’t a computer system tracking burials yet.) The city used to handle about one or two indigent burials a month. Now there are eight to 10.
“I think it’s a sign of the times,” said Shroyer, who is 59.
He worked in a small brick office building at Evergreen Cemetery, off Central Avenue. With an $800,000 budget and a staff of eight people, much of his work was administrative: selling land and making sure contractors tended the grass.
His job could also be gut-wrenching.
“We have buried a lot of babies,” he said.
“You have to treat it as a job, but you have to show compassion,” he said. “I have always tried to instill in my guys that you have to treat people right.”
He added: “It’s hard. You try and show empathy for the family. You can’t tell them you know what they are feeling. But after doing this job for so long, you almost do.”
Evergreen, the city’s newest cemetery, had its first burial in 1947.
There are five other cemeteries: Elmwood, Oaklawn, Ninth Street Pinewood, North Pinewood and West Pinewood.
There are more than 10,000 deaths a year in Charlotte, with most burials handled by private cemeteries or churches. The city inters about 450 people annually.
Shroyer said at some point the City Council will have to consider whether to open a seventh cemetery, as land is running out.
“We have about three more years of burials,” Shroyer said. “They will have to find some land.”
Another decision City Council and his successor may wrestle with: whether to continue burials for the indigent or to offer only cremation.
Even if the city decides to no longer accept new burials for lack of space, someone will always have his job, in order to care for existing cemeteries.
The city hasn’t named his replacement.
Shroyer, who is married with two grown children, said he will be officially retired. His only plans are to continue a hobby of refereeing basketball games.
He was asked whether he will be buried in one of his cemeteries. Shroyer said he will likely choose to be cremated instead.
“It’s just the most efficient way to go,” he said.