Members Profile: Robert and Jan Heaven
In our first of many Members Profile, we're pleased to introduce Robert and Jan Heaven, who are the Curators of the McLaren Vale Uniting Cemetery and the McLaren Vale Congregational Cemetery.
A small Chapel (House of the Lord) was erected in 1844 and still stands in the Congregational Church Cemetery. Burials began in the mid 1850's and in 1861, the large Congregational Church was built.
In 1849 a land grant was made for another church and cemetery, with the first burial in the cemetery being registered in 1853 and the McLaren Vale Uniting Church being built in 1858.
Robert and Jan first became involved with the Uniting Church in 1987, when their now 34 year old son Robbie was 3 years old. At the time they joined the congregation, it was overflowing with young children and families, but times have changed since then.
Eight years after joining the church, the ageing curator knew that she needed to find someone to take on the two cemeteries, as a part the church outreach to the community and Robert and Jan took the baton. Jan still says that "For, me it is the best thing I could have done, as it has been such a rewarding and fulfilling “job” ".
Robert and Jan are conscious that "as a church cemetery we are most aware that we are ambassadors for Christ firstly, so I guess if we were to have role model, it would be Jesus. In our minds, the needs of the families we meet are set at the very highest priority.
Having the luxury of time, we are able to spend a number of hours with a grieving spouse, or the children of a passed loved one. Over the years we have made many connections and when we run into people whom we have met at a very trying time in their lives, we are always greeted with a hug and kiss, which is just a side bonus to what we do."
Robert and Jan believe that there are two major natural qualities a Cemetery Curator must have:
Compassion: those coming to us are at the lowest ebb, whether it be death through age, sickness, accident, or Heaven forbid, a suicide, or a baby’s death. Robert and Jan have experienced many of these traumas, some with relations, or members of their friends’ families; and
Passion: to be of service to the community. They maintain the grounds of the two cemeteries in as near possible, pristine condition. They also liaise with Funeral Directors by organising the Chapel, Hall, Minister, Catering, Musicians, Sound and the Gravedigger. Later they meet with the family to organise the plaque and a suitable time of the interment of cremated remains;
When they are not Curating, both Robert and Jan spend their spare time delving into the past and have a penchant for tracing family histories. In their investigations, they have been known to uncover a skeleton, or two in the closet, although it is very rare. As Jan says, their "forebears led normal lives, so no swashbuckling heroes, just ordinary hard-working farmers".
One of the questions we asked of them was, where was their favourite place to eat and Jan's response was "I have recently returned from Tel Aviv (name dropping), so have been introduced to falafels. The best place in the whole wide world to eat such fare is from a little stall in the Carmel market, Falafel Rambam. If you are ever in Tel Aviv, that’s the place to go for a nourishing cheap lunch!"
Thanks Robert and Jan for the opportunity to get to know a little more about you. It's been a pleasure.