Grave joke: Headstone’s profane message no laughing matter to Iowa officials

POLK COUNTY, Iowa — A final joke on a headstone has become a grave matter for Iowa cemetery officials.

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An epitaph on the headstone of Steve Paul Owens, when read vertically, spells out an obscene message, KCCI-TV reported.

According to his obituary, Owens, 59, died Sept. 2, 2021, “to go play Yahtzee in heaven with his mom.” His family recently had a headstone installed on his grave at Warren-Powers Cemetery in Polk County containing a saying that Owens’ grandparents were fond of saying -- “If you don’t listen, you’ll have to feel.”

No problem. The saying on the other side of the stone is what is causing a grim reaction.

Due to strategic spacing, an obscene phrase is visible when reading the first letter of each line vertically, WHO-TV reported.

Owens’ family members said the message is not profane -- at least to their father.

“It was definitely his term of endearment,” Owens’ daughter, Lindsay Owens Andrews, told KCCI. “If he didn’t like you, he didn’t speak to you. It’s just who he was.”

“He’s easily riled up. It was always a goal of some sort to have him tell you to do this,” Owens’ son, Zachary Owens, told the television station.

Owens’ survivors said he did not know about the inscription before his death, but said they are certain he would find it amusing.

Community members and the families of others buried at the Camp Township cemetery were not laughing.

The cemetery’s board of trustees had told the Owens family and the maker of the headstone not to place it at Owens’ site.

In an emailed statement to WHO, the board said that profanity is not allowed on monuments because “those others who have a place in the cemetery have the right of decency afforded to them.”

“They do not want nor do they appreciate the stone being in the cemetery,” the board said in its statement. “This community will not stop until they have the headstone removed.”

The Owens family believes that others should simply lighten up.

“No one’s forcing anyone to come out and look at it. That’s a choice that you make,” Zachary Owens told KCCI. “We didn’t do it to offend anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings. We did it because it was our father and we love him and that’s the way we remember him.”