A final resting place

Bernalillo County resident Wynona Dreuss, 93, lost touch with her son sometime during the pandemic.

Then, on Aug. 17, 2020, she died. Nobody came to claim her body.

The San Jose de Armijo Cemetery new Coors Blvd. and Arenal Road is run by the nonprofit El Campo Santo Inc. This picture was shot last November as Patricia Franco spruced up the gravesite of her mother, Guadalupe Franco, in observance of the Day of the Dead. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

That’s because Dreuss had prepaid for her funeral and listed her son, Leonard Mondel, as the point of contact in the event of her death. But the funeral home couldn’t get in touch with him, either.

That’s when the company Dreuss chose for her funeral services, El Campo Santo Inc., got involved. El Campo Santo is a nonprofit organization that is part of The Atrisco Companies conglomerate. The mortuary, said Atrisco Companies chief executive officer Peter Sanchez, contacted El Campo for assistance in locating the son.

“I don’t think there was a fight or anything (between mother and son),” he said. “They were living apart, as people do at that age. They had moved here from somewhere else, so they had no other family around them. Something went awry during COVID.”

El Campo is a nonprofit organization that provides affordable burials at San Jose de Armijo, Santa Clara and Evangelico cemeteries. All three El Campo cemeteries were once designated as burial places for Atrisco Land Grant heirs. The cemeteries are no longer limited to heirs and any citizen can choose them as a final resting place.

Christine Jaramillo, left, and her 7-year-old granddaughter Kaytline Jaramillo, decorated the gravesite of a family member on Christmas Eve 2020. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Sanchez said Dreuss had chosen to be buried at San Jose de Armijo.

“She had one son, but no one could find him to work through him upon her death,” Sanchez said. “After she remained in limbo with the mortuary for some time, with no relatives stepping forward both the funeral home and our cemetery worked together to lay her to rest.”

They proceeded with Dreuss’ burial, but El Campo funeral director Anita Lucero said she felt uneasy about the situation and set out to find Mondel. She talked to neighbors, did her own online research and contacted other organizations.

Lucero was finally able to locate Mondel, but it was bittersweet. He died on Jan. 21, 2021. With nobody stepping forward to claim him, he was transferred over to Bernalillo County’s indigent cremation program.

Larry Gallegos, spokesman for Bernalillo County, said as part of its indigent cremation program, the county makes every effort to find next of kin for the people they receive. They cremate the bodies immediately, but wait two years before burying the ashes. He said people end up in the indigent cremation program for many reasons. Many, he said, are homeless. Others have no family or have lost touch with them completely or have family who lives far away. Others come from families who can’t afford a burial.

“This program was started because we felt everyone deserves a burial, no matter what the story of their lives was,” Gallegos said.

Lucero said Mondel was in a wheelchair and Dreuss was elderly, which could have led to the disconnection. They had moved to Albuquerque from Ohio and had no other family here. El Campo paid the nearly $500 to retrieve Mondel’s remains from the county and the company plans to reunite mother and son in death. They will bury Mondel’s ashes in Dreuss’ plot and provide a headstone for each.

“Our mission is to help the community so we try to do good deeds,” Sanchez said. “We wanted to help when this crossed our path.”

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