Father feuds with cemetery over son's elaborate memorial

Fred Molai saying a prayer at the gravesite of his son, Adam, at Standing Rock Cemetery in Kent, Ohio on April 23, 2014
AP Photo/Akron Beacon Journal, Phil Masturzo

KENT, Ohio -- A northeast Ohio man is embroiled in a legal fight with a cemetery that contends he is breaking the rules with 8-foot high poles bearing large photographs which are part of an elaborate shrine at the grave of his adult son.

The city of Kent, which operates Standing Rock Cemetery, has taken issue with the two large pictures of Fred Molai's son that hang on poles on each side of the memorial adorned with flowers. The cemetery says the poles were put up without permission, and people have complained.

Molai sued the cemetery and Portage County to try to keep the photos up, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. A judge ruled earlier this month that the case should be decided by the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Committee, part of the Ohio Department of Commerce. Molai said he plans to file a complaint with that agency.

Kent Law Director James R. Silver said he couldn't comment on the pending litigation.

Molai's son Adam was a U.S. Navy petty officer when he died in a rafting accident nearly three years ago. He had been stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore near Fresno, Calif.

Fred Molai, 57, said he has visited the grave every day for more than 2.5 years. He said he bought 15 cemetery plots at $500 each and is using only five of them for his son's monument, meaning there is green space on all sides.

He and Adam's mother, Bridget Sanders, created the memorial that includes numerous silk-flower arrangements, 10 American flags, a granite marker inscribed with Adam's picture, an image of a Navy F-18 Super Hornet, like the one he worked on as a technician, and his drum kit. The two tall poles hold photos of Adam in uniform. The memorial is 16-feet wide and 4-feet deep.

The cemetery trustees, in an effort to compromise with Molai, asked that he remove the taller poles and have the pictures reinstalled on smaller posts so that they would not "tower over the headstone." But Molai did not agree to the compromise.

"I cannot have a limit for the love I have for my son," he said.

He said the daily visits and the shrine help with his grief.

"If I don't come here, I just go crazy in my head," he said. "It is the closest I can get to him."