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Sea lovers rest under the waves
Cremated remains, mixed with concrete, form 'community reef' in Atlantic Ocean

By JOEY HOLLEMAN   Staff Writer

CHARLESTON -- Vincent Taylor and Quinton Satterfield were about as different as two people could be.

Taylor was an old salt with 30 years in the Navy and 18 years working on a Department of Natural Resources research vessel. Quinton was stillborn.

On Wednesday, they shared an unusual grave with 16 others at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off Charleston. The cremated remains of those 18 people were mixed with concrete to form the first "community reef" created by Atlanta-based Eternal Reefs.

Some might consider that odd. To the families involved, the concept seemed heaven-sent.

"He had always said he wanted his ashes thrown out to sea," said Julie Taylor of Charleston, Vincent Taylor's widow. "But that bothered me because who knows where they might end up."

She liked the Eternal Reef concept, so she took it to the group that really mattered, the couple's five children. "That's the first time I've known all five of them had agreed on anything," she said.

Quinton Satterfield didn't have a chance to love the ocean. But his parents do. Carl and Tonya Satterfield of Mount Pleasant are avid divers.

They felt uncomfortable with the traditional burial process. They didn't want to visit a cemetery. They prefer visiting the ocean floor, a place filled with life.

"We got a strange reaction from some of our family members," Carl Satterfield said. "But we feel good about it."

The cement is shaped into balls that look like igloos with holes cut in them. A group of friends formed Reef Ball Development Group in 1992, creating the artificial devices to help rebuild damaged coral reefs. Hundreds of thousands of reef balls have been sunk by governments and scientists around the world to provide places for fish to breed.

When Carleton Glen Palmer, the father of one of the company's founders, faced death from cancer in 1998, he asked that his cremated remains be mixed into a reef ball.

That led to the spinoff of Eternal Reefs. Dozens of people have paid the company from $1,500 to $3,200, depending on size, for individual memorial reefs.

Wednesday marked the first sinking of a community reef, in which the remains of a number of people are mixed in one batch of concrete to make dozens of reef balls. The cost is $850 per person.

The community reef seemed ideal for Rose Kovacs of North Charleston. She had the responsibility for the remains of three people: first husband, Sigmund Polasek; second husband, Steve Kovacs; and his first wife, Cornelia Kovacs.

"This was like a prayer answered because they all loved the water," Kovacs said. "What a wonderful concept. I want to be put into a reef when I'm gone."

After a short service on the dock at the Charleston Maritime Center, the family members boarded a boat for a trip to the drop site, about 2 1/2 miles from the Charleston harbor jetties.

The reef balls will take up a corner of a 25-acre site set aside for artificial reefs. The site is about 30 feet under water, said Bob Martore, who heads the Department of Natural Resources artificial reef project.

A brass plaque attached to one of the reef balls commemorates the 18 people buried in them, along with seven others who had traditional burials, but whose relatives wanted them to be remembered on a reef.

Divers can use the plaque to locate their loved ones' remains, said George Frankel, chief executive officer of Eternal Reefs.

Most of the community reef families made arrangements through McAlister-Smith Funeral Home in Charleston. Co-owner Mark Smith said the desire for cremation has increased in recent years. About half of the families say they plan to scatter the ashes, but many of them don't do it.

The ashes "end up in a closet, under a bed, on a mantel," he said. "They say they couldn't bring themselves to actually do it."

"We wanted to offer another option for them."

Ginny Steele of Mount Pleasant had hung onto the ashes of her father, Robert Betz, and her son Robbie Steele for years. When she heard about Eternal Reefs, she called the funeral home.

"We thought this would be a great way to honor them," she said. "They were avid fishermen."

Now, they'll spend eternity with them.


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