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A hidden swear word on a headstone has stirred controversy in this Iowa community

<i>Courtesy Lindsay Owens</i><br/>Steven Paul Owens' headstone in Polk features a profane message hidden in the first letter of each line. CNN has blurred a portion of this image.
Courtesy Lindsay Owens
Steven Paul Owens' headstone in Polk features a profane message hidden in the first letter of each line. CNN has blurred a portion of this image.

By Zoe Sottile, CNN

A loving message on headstone at a cemetery in Polk County, Iowa, hides a not-so-decent joke in honor of the deceased man’s unique sense of humor. But not everyone in town finds it funny.

Steven Paul Owens’ headstone at Warren-Powers Cemetery displays states: “Forever in our hearts, until we meet again, cherished memories, known as: our son, brother, father, papa, uncle, friend & cousin.”

But this seemingly normal text is aligned so that the first letter of every sentence spells, “F**k off.”

The message has led to pushback from the Camp Township Trustees who oversee the cemetery. Owens’ family says the text is intended to be an ode to his dry humor and sometimes prickly attitude.

Owens, who died on September 2, 2021, was a “very fun-loving guy,” his son Zachary Owens told CNN, though he was also “easily riled.”

Daughter Lindsay Owens explained that friends and family members loved to tease her father and get him “fired up.” And Owens used the swear almost as a “term of endearment,” Lindsay added. “If he didn’t like you, he didn’t talk to you,” she said. “If you got him to tell you to f**k off, it meant he liked you.”

The idea to “hide” the profanity within a longer message came from a cousin, according to the siblings. “Everybody (in the family) was on board,” said Zachary.

Others in Polk County, however, haven’t been so enthused.

A few days before the headstone was to be placed, Camp Township Trustees told them it could not be installed because of the profanity, Lindsay said. The memorial company that produced the headstone installed it anyway on Friday, May 27.

Since then, the trustees have pushed to remove the headstone, a representative of the Camp Township trustees told CNN. The representative asked not to be named out of concern over potential backlash.

“We do not want it there,” the representative said. “It really needs to be removed.”

Allowing the headstone to remain in place could act as a kind of slippery slope allowing for more hateful messages to be placed in the cemetery, the representative said. “If we allow profanity of that sort in the cemetery, and that’s okay for that, how are we ever gonna draw a line on anything else?”

The trustees have also received numerous complaints from residents about Owens’ headstone, according to the representative. The headstone may be particularly offensive to families whose loved ones are buried nearby and thus can’t avoid Owens’ headstone, they added.

“People have the right for decency, not just the one family,” said the representative. The township “just really has to be mindful of what’s best for the masses.”

The township is in the process of consulting its lawyers to pursue removal of the headstone.

Both siblings said that the cemetery’s push to remove the headstone is “hurtful.”

“Our intention was never to offend anyone, ever,” said Lindsay.

“I would just ask that they let us remember our father in the way we remember him, and not take it personally because it has nothing to do with them,” Zachary added.

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