Note to readers: The graduation year for Michael Bruton was incorrect in Thursday's print edition. The Post and Courier regrets the error.
When Diane Bruton learned The Citadel was building a columbarium to hold the cremated remains of deceased alumni, she was relieved.
"I thought, 'This is what I've been waiting for,' " she said.
Her husband, Michael Bruton, who graduated from The Citadel in 1967, died in 2004. He told his wife just a year before he died that he wanted to be cremated.
Diane Bruton complied with her husband's wishes. And she's kept the urn containing his ashes at her home in Jacksonville, Fla., ever since. She just didn't know, until now, where she ultimately would place it.
At 5:30 p.m. today, The Citadel will dedicate the columbarium. With marble floors and rich wood walls, it sits in the lower part of the bell tower. It has 403 niches that hold up to two urns each, said Michael Rogers, executive director of The Citadel Alumni Association.
The association will sell the niches for $8,000 each, he said. But members of the Class of 1957 will pay $5,000.
Several years ago, that class raised about $500,000 and renovated the carillon, a set of 59 bells played by a keyboard in the bell tower.
Before that, the bell tower had fallen into disrepair and was mostly silent for more than 15 years, except for a few bells that chimed on the quarter-hour.
Harry van Bergen, an alumnus from the Class of 1957, was a leader in the push to build the columbarium. His Dutch ancestors' foundry cast the carillon's bells.
With the money raised by selling niches, the Alumni Association will create an endowment to maintain the bell tower, Rogers said. Some of the money also will go toward scholarships for students who play the carillon.
Bruton said when she learned about the scholarships, she was even more certain that her husband's remains should be placed in the columbarium.
Her husband loved The Citadel, she said.
Rogers said a lot of alumni are closely tied to the school, especially those who graduated in the 1950s. During that decade, about 90 percent of graduates joined the military.
Many of them moved a lot and don't have a place they consider their home, he said.
"If you don't have a place to go," he said, "coming back to where you had four memorable years is important."
The association hasn't yet sent out brochures telling alumni that niches in the columbarium are for sale, he said. But the word has gotten out, and he's already sold 14 of them.
He said he's not sure how quickly they will sell. "I'm a retired FBI agent. I've never been in the funeral business," he said.
But he thinks seeing the space at today's dedication will help people decide if it's where they want their ashes placed.