It’s 50 years of monuments for Lyle Bird

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When Wilson and Co. workers went on strike in 1959, Lyle Bird answered an ad in the newspaper about selling memorials for cemeteries.

“I had five kids to feed,” the Freeborn resident recalled.

When the strike was settled, Bird went back to work at Wilson. But he continued to sell memorials.

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In 1991, when the plant closed for a time, Bird was 61, so he opted to retire — but not from selling monuments.

Bird said much of his business comes from word of mouth. He also mails out literature to a family when someone dies.

“They’ll call me or come and visit,” he said.

Generally, people need to decide on the size and shape of their monument as well as the color of granite they’d like and what type of lettering will go on it.

When he first started selling monuments, they were pretty plain. With recent technology, headstones can now tell stories about who a person was. Bird said people have gotten everything from farm scenes, airplanes, needles and thread, butterflies, seed corn, wheat, cats and even people’s pictures on their headstones.

No matter what the design, Bird said he stresses to people the importance of getting good lettering on their monuments. Highlighted lettering can wear off over time; shaped and carved letters stand the test of time, he said.

Bird said it generally takes four to six weeks from the time a person orders a memorial to the time it’s completed.

“The more details a person wants, the longer it takes,” he said. “It also depends on how busy the company is, but it usually doesn’t take over eight weeks.”

He sells Sunburst Memorials, based in St. Cloud. When a monument that he’s ordered is ready, it’s shipped to Owatonna Granite Works, which was recently purchased by Sunburst.

Bird picks up the monument and installs it in the cemetery. He pours the cement onto which he installs the monument.

He’s installed monuments all over Freeborn County, in Jewell and Forest City, Iowa, Amboy, Lake Crystal, Austin, New Richland and Waseca.

Bird estimates that 30 percent of his business is pre-planned; couples come to him and pick out their memorial together.

Bird said he enjoys the business because it keeps him active. “I don’t like to sit around and do nothing,” he said. “I’m kind of a workaholic. When I was at Wilson’s I had four jobs.”

His son, Robert, helps him with installation sometimes now.

Bird admits he often meets with people at a difficult time in their lives, but in the end, they appreciate what he does for them — helping them choose a lasting reminder of someone they love.