Schnepf Farms, a Queen Creek venue known for farm-themes weddings, pumpkin festivals, giant hay mazes, fresh peaches and other family-friendly events might seem like an unusual place to think about actually burying your loved ones.
“We are not known for the cemetery necessarily; we are known for our agritainment,” said owner Mark Schnepf. “Some people thought ‘gosh why are you building a cemetery?’”
“This has been in the works for many years,” Schnepf said, explaining that his father envisioned a cemetery for Queen Creek as far back as the 1970s but “never got it done.”
And as land became more and more valuable in Queen Creek, the younger Schnepf and his wife Carrie realized that no one would ever build a cemetery when land could be sold, subdivided and sold off to the highest bidder, usually home builders.
Being among the largest landowners in the state, Schnepf had the luxury of doing something for the community and his descendants – and not for the quick buck
“The thing is that every community needs a really good, beautiful place to place their loved ones that have passed,” Schnepf said. “A place that’s close. A place that’s affordable. A place that is beautiful, and peaceful and safe.
“So, that’s what Carrie and I have created here at this corner of Schnepf Farms.”
Schenpf’s story is personal. Because his father wasn’t able to see his vision come to fruition and get a cemetery constructed in Queen Creek, his parents are buried in Mesa. As a result, Schnepf doesn’t visit their grave sites as often as he would like.
So in 2013, Schnepf finally acted on what he thought was a glaring need for the people of Queen Creek.
He created that long dreamt of cemetery, San Tan Memorial Gardens at Schnepf Farms, on 7 acres of land at the southeast corner of the 5,000-acre farm.
“We have just under 1,500 burials already within the cemetery,” said Memorial Gardens director Dillon Benavides. “We’ve been doing burials since 2013.
And there is room for many more. There are broad swaths of well-manicured, bright green grass, bookended with park benches, all under a canopy of mature trees.
With that phase of the cemetery complete, and a shifting trend away from in-ground burial, Schnepf has created a partnership with private individuals as well as Gateway Bank.
They have donated $2 million to break ground on phase two of the cemetery, the Mausoleum at San Tan Memorial Gardens at Schnepf Farms, billed as the first free-standing structure of its kind built in the Southeast Valley.
“Some families may be uncomfortable with in-ground burials. Other families just like the aesthetics,” Benavides said.
“Or, especially with cremation on the rise, a lot of families prefer instead of burying the urn in a burial vault, they prefer to place it in a mausoleum.”
The mausoleum has room for at least 80 crypts for caskets, 1,200 columbarium niches for the placement of cremated remains, family-size urn niches to accommodate up to eight urns in one niche, heated and air-conditioned funeral gathering place and tight security.
Crypts within the mausoleum start at $9,325 and niches begin at $2,360.
But this cemetery and mausoleum are not about the money for Schnepf, at least not up front.
It could take at least a generation, Schnepf said, to repay the investors who made both phases of the cemetery possible to begin with.
He invoked his father’s dream to have a place for people from here … to stay here, even after death.
“Being able to stay here instead of having to go to Mesa is great,” said Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark.
“Back in the day when you lost a loved one, you’d have to go to Mesa and have the visitation there the ceremony up there, it’s just so wonderful to be able to stay here in the community.”
Because of the way that Schnepf structured the partnership, this has the added advantage of keeping the land in the family, and out of the hands of developers.
He said $2 million “is what it’s going to cost to build that building.
“And then we will sell the niches and plots over 10 years, 15 years, however long it takes to fill it up and over that period of time we’ll get our loan paid off at the bank and there will be a profit at the end of the 10 or 15 years. We don’t know.”
The mausoleum is scheduled to be complete in about seven months.
“You want to have a sacred place and hallowed final resting place for your family members in their time of need so it’s imperative that we provide a space,” said Dr. Vernet Joseph, pastor at Mountain View Church, who has performed several funerals here.
“You don’t want to keep people going 50 miles out of the town or the community on order to have a place to rest.”
The Mausoleum at San Tan Memorial Gardens is at 22425 E. Cloud Road, Queen Creek. Information: 480-987-2488