Wednesday June 7th 2023

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# 198 Jack Ferman

Tales from the Cemetery

by Susan Hunter Weir

November 20, 2021, was a bittersweet day in the history of Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery. It was a sad day because it was the day that his wife and daughters buried Jack Ferman. It was a sweet day because he was buried where he wanted to be—in his family’s plot near the cemetery’s Lake Street gates. Jack’s was our first burial in 22 years and the first in the 21st century.

If you attended one of the movies that we’ve shown in the cemetery and bought some snacks, there’s a good chance that you bought them from Jack. He attended every Memorial Day program for at least the past 20 years and possibly before that. He was at all of our fundraising events, always present and always helping out. He was on the Board of Friends of the Cemetery. He wrote about his immigrant grandparents who are buried in the cemetery in an Alley story published in January 2016. He followed politics, both local and national, closely and was a frequent contributor to He loved to tell jokes, most of them awful.

Jack spent four years in the Navy. He had traced the story of his Norwegian seafaring family back to the 17th century. He had a Ph.D in metallurgy and worked on projects for General Motors and Westinghouse in the University’s Physics Department. Later, he worked for the Pollution Control Agency.

One of the questions that we are most often asked is whether it is possible to be buried in the cemetery. The answer is almost always, “maybe, although it’s not very likely.” More than a century ago, in 1918, the City Council voted to close the cemetery to future burials. In 1935, they voted to allow exceptions for people who met certain conditions. Those who want to be buried there have to own a plot purchased before 1918 and to have a family member already buried in the cemetery. And the City has to approve the burial.

Jack had the original deed to his family’s plot. It is dated April 12, 1899, and signed by several adult children of Martin and Elizabeth Layman, the cemetery’s original owners. One and a-half-month-old Clara Ferman, the daughter of Jack’s grandparents, died from spina bifida in 1887. When Jack’s grandmother, 36-year-old Josephine, died in March 1899, her husband, John Ferman, purchased a block of graves. In 1904, their five-year-old grandson died from diphtheria. John Ferman, Jack’s grandfather, died in 1917 and was buried near them but there were still plots left unused.

Jack clearly met the two criteria established by the City Council, The tricky part was that no one who had ever handled an exception still worked for the city. There have only been about 85 burials since 1935 and most of those were in the 1940s and 50s. All of the City staff who were contacted wanted Jack to be buried with this family but it wasn’t clear who had the authority to make that happen. It took a little over a month to gather all of the documentation and figure out the appropriate channels for the request to go through, but on November 10, 2021, the City Attorney authorized the burial. Jack’s wish to be buried with his family was granted, a collaborative effort between the City Council member’s office, the Department of Public Works and the City Attorney and City Clerk’s offices. Our thanks go to Graham Faulkner, Senior Policy Aide to then-City Council Member Alondra Cano, Steve Collin and Mike Kennedy from the City’s Department of Public Works, Jackie Hanson from the City Clerk’s Office, and Jim Rowider, City Attorney’s Office. On January 10, 2022, in her last official act on the City Council, Alondra Cano introduced a resolution honoring Jack for his military service and his many contributions to the City of Minneapolis. Jack was buried on November 20, 2021, and his marker is scheduled to be set on April 23, 2022.

Another question that we are often asked is who was the last person to be buried in the cemetery. The answer is simple: Jack Ferman, a kind and colorful man. We are so sorry to have lost him but happy that his wish to be buried near his family was granted. Jack is survived by this wife, Nancy Benson, three daughters, Amy, Beth and Micaela, his grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Rest in Peace, Jack, and thank you.

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