Dignity in death: Remains of Hamilton County man laid to rest in Westfield


George Podolan was 77 years old when he passed away at home in Carmel on Jan. 25, 2023.

But for more than a year, his cremated remains were housed at the Hamilton County Coroner’s office in Noblesville, unclaimed by family or friends for burial.

On April 4, Podolan — remembered simply as “George” — finally received a proper burial, thanks to a partnership between Christian-based ministry He Knows Your Name, the Hamilton County Coroner’s office and Flanner Buchanan – Hamilton Memorial Park/Prairie Waters Event Center in Westfield.

“We say that he is worthy of being known, seen and considered as valuable,” Linda Znachko, founder of He Knows Your Name, said during George’s funeral, which was attended by more than a dozen people who never met him. “We honor George, and we set in motion a process for future unclaimed to always have a laying to rest home here.”

In 2022, Znachko’s organization worked with the Marion County Coroner’s Office to bury the remains of 173 unclaimed persons at Oaklawn Memorial Gardens in Indianapolis. She invited every coroner in the state to the ceremony in an effort to push for burial of unclaimed remains in their respective jurisdictions, but only Hamilton County Coroner Jeff Jellison showed up.

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George Podolan of Carmel is the first unclaimed person laid to rest in Westfield thanks to He Knows Your Name, the Hamilton County Coroner’s office and Flanner Buchanan – Hamilton Memorial Park.

“I was becoming more and more aware that the coroner’s offices have an accumulation of unclaimed, and I find that appalling quite honestly,” Znachko said. “I feel like it’s disrespectful to human life, and that these city offices and county offices have got to put in their budgets some money set aside to do this.”

Znachko and Jellison’s office joined forces to find a way to give George a proper burial. But Jellison said his office isn’t seeking recognition for the effort.

“Today is not about organizations and it’s not about coroners, it’s about dignity and providing dignity to those that don’t have family or don’t have someone to support them to a final resting place,” Jellison said. “The real reason we’re here today is to give George Podolan the dignity he deserves.”

Znachko hopes providing a burial site for George and other unclaimed remains in Westfield will serve as a reminder to Hamilton County residents that despite the overall wealth and resources of the county, people still die alone and are left unclaimed even if they have living relatives. She said that while it’s easy to assume that the unclaimed have died alone with no family, it’s often not the case.

“The truth is, a lot of them do have families, and they have neighbors,” she said. “(George) lived in Carmel. I think we need to realize that… Hamilton County has roundabouts everywhere and they have the most beautiful parks everywhere, but this coroner doesn’t have enough money in his budget to (bury the unclaimed).”

George is buried in an ossuary — a vault for cremated remains — inside a memorial garden at Hamilton Memorial Park/Prairie Waters. The garden is specifically for cremated remains. Ben Upton, VP of Advanced Planning for Flanner Buchanan, said the garden is a serene area overlooking the water that makes a peaceful environment for families to visit their loved ones.

George’s memorial stone is a cenotaph, which will hold the names of future unclaimed persons who are buried at the cemetery.

“Our goal is to be able to serve all of our cremation families to have a more natural area, so it makes it a perfect fit with our partnership with the coroner’s office and He Knows Your Name, to be able to place them here and have a place for their names,” Upton said.

For Znachko, the action is simply about providing dignity in death.

“I know that in our world we think other resources are important, but I think our time and our presence is the greatest gift that we can give and show, (it’s) the most powerful way of honoring someone,” Znachko said.

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A white dove was released during George Podolan’s funeral. (Photos by Marney Simon)

He Knows Your Name ministry

Linda Znachko founded He Knows Your Name ministry in 2009, following the discovery of an infant in a dumpster in Indianapolis. Znachko said she felt called to action, to provide a name and burial for the unknown child.

The ministry, which is funded by a private foundation, provides burials for unclaimed children and adults in order to provide those persons dignity and honor in death by celebrating their lives.

In 2022, He Knows Your Name, with assistance from the Marion County Coroner’s Office, laid to rest 173 unclaimed adult decedents in Indianapolis. The ministry will partner with Marion County again in June for additional burials.

The burial of George Podolan marks the first collaboration between He Knows Your Name and Hamilton County.

Learn more about He Knows Your Name ministry by visiting heknowsyourname.org.