FRUITLAND, Iowa — Eighteen months ago, John Hoopes made a monumental decision.
On Thursday afternoon, the man who for decades sold watermelons and other melons he had grown out of his Grandview Avenue business, Hoopes Melon Shed, watched with a smile on his face as his dream was set atop the ground at Island Cemetery.
Hoopes, who’s 79, wanted a unique monument to mark the final resting place for himself, his wife, Mary Beth, and their four children, Holly, Simon, Fred and Kenneth. He had Polly Geurink, sales manager at Iowa Memorial Granite Company in Muscatine, design what one of the monument suppliers and installers, Randy Richter of Granite Resources Corp. of Nashotah, Wis., called “a one-of-a-kind” memorial: a black tablet topped by a granite slice of watermelon – so juicy looking that passersby just might salivate.
The granite watermelon, featuring a painted green rind and natural marbling that looks a little like seeds, is a fitting tribute for a business that for decades was the place to go in a city known for its watermelons.
Hoopes, a fourth-generation watermelon grower, said he liked the 4,561-pound monument from the moment he first laid eyes on Geurink’s computer-generated image.
“When you’re 79, you know you don’t have far to go,” he said as he watched Richter and his partner, Brian Hooper, with help from Geurink’s husband, Randy, slowly lower the tablet directly atop three screws used to align it to the base. “I figured I might as well do some planning.”
What was he thinking as Richter manipulated a crane to delicately lower the 3,300-pound tablet into position?
“I was just hoping they wouldn’t drop it,” Hoopes said with a smile. “And they didn’t!”
Arriving just before the watermelon slice topper was put in place, Mary Beth Hoopes, who’s 73, said she “loved the design. It’s classy, not hokey.”
In between installing each stage of the monument, Richter and Hooper, who said he thought it ironic that all through high school his nickname was “Hoops,” used a sealing compound to set the monument in place and help keep moisture away from the foundation, which is buried about four feet below the surface. When they were done, they rubbed the monument with denatured alcohol to make it shine.
Randy Geurink, Iowa Memorial Granite Company’s general manager, said he sees more and more people personalizing their granite memorials.
“This one is specific to the family business they were in,” he said. “Nowadays, when they have a memorial designed, people are doing whatever they want. People want to recognize what they’ve done with their lives.”
Polly Geurink said the watermelon was fashioned from red granite and decorated with green Lithochrome paint. Richter had a leftover can of paint in the cab of his company truck that he left with the family.
John Hoopes said he was seeking a memorial that reminded him of the family business begun by his great-grandfather nearly 140 years ago. The watermelon is an iconic slice of life from Hoopes Melon Shed, which the family sold three years ago.
He said he has burial spots selected for each of his family members – all of whom will share a solitary melon slice marking their family’s presence at the Fruitland cemetery.
“Polly called me two weeks after I asked her (to design the memorial) and said, ‘I think you’ll like it,’” Hoopes recalled. “I did.”