HOUSTON - Joyce Yoder wanted a living
monument to her husband William's memory and, off the coast of South
Padre Island, she is getting her wish.
The remains of Bill Yoder will become part of an artificial
reef's underwater life, seven miles off the southernmost tip of the
Texas coast. His widow from Pearland says she'll take a boat to the
underwater grave site, in 75 feet of water, and cast a line so she
can "fish off Bill."
The remains of five people, including four Texans, were
incorporated separately into concrete "reef balls" that will be
placed on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on Monday and will last
about 500 years.
Families on Sunday said goodbye from a pier on South Padre
Island. Some drew hearts in blue chalk on the 3-tall by 4-wide
concrete balls. Others, like the Yoders, fastened ribbons to the
dome-shaped structures. Someone had written on one, "From the Sea,
To the Sea."
"I knew that if I scattered his ashes over the water somewhere,
he would be very happy. But it wasn't accomplishing anything," said
Pam Benshetler, 60, who for more than a year had stored her husband
Chip's ashes in an urn on her dresser. "This feels like you are
doing something for the environment."
The five reef balls that will be placed on the sea floor seven
miles off South Padre Island will extend a reef started by the state
in 1997. The 40-acre site already includes a tugboat, the legs of
several oil platforms, a Navy barge and 32 nonmemorial reef balls.
It's one of 48 artificial reefs in Texas, a program that started in
1989 to boost fishing and fisheries.
Those being added to the Port Isabel reef site range in age from
18 to 57, and include four Texans and a Prescott, Ariz., teenager
killed in a car crash. Some have been dead for 10 years - others for
only a few months. They have had in common a love for water or the
sea, whether it was scuba diving, fishing or a stint in the U.S.
"This creates a living monument to their loved ones. It's not
that they're gone, it's, `Look at what they are doing now,' " Don
Brawley, the founder of Eternal Reefs Inc., told the Houston
Chronicle in Monday's editions.
The Atlanta-based company has thus so far deployed 250 memorial
reef balls, mainly off the coasts of Florida and South Carolina. The
balls are perforated with holes and dented with craters that can be
used by marine life.
As cremation has become an increasing choice for families,
artificial reefs are among dozens of options now available.
Companies will scatter remains inside a fireworks display, dump them
off a hot air balloon or blast them into orbit. A Des Moines, Iowa,
company places them in shotgun shells. Another company can create a
gemstone out of the remains.
"One of the big driving points is the sheer numbers. People in
the industry have found that there are a lot of people that would
like to memorialize their loved ones in something a little
different," said Jack Springer, executive director of the Cremation
Association of North America in Chicago.
Information from: Houston Chronicle