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EU Cemetery in need of helping hands

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POSTED March 25, 2009 4:49 a.m.
The new East Union Cemetery Association board wants to be ready for business once they get the official okay from the state.

That could be as early as Aug. 1 or, at the latest, Oct. 1.

“It depends on how complete is their application and how many (applications) we have waiting here. If everything is complete and we don’t have a huge backlog, it won’t take that long. We’ll process it like we would any of the applications coming in,” said state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau Director Rick Wallinder on Monday.

The association, which owns and operates historic East Union Cemetery, will need to re-apply for a business license after it was revoked for a year back in August for nonpayment of license fees by the previous board and other reasons.

There is a laundry list of requirements that need to be submitted to the state along with the application papers. Some of those are readily available such as a copy of the property’s signed deed of sale. But others will not be so easy, and the association is hoping generous people in the community will step forward to help.

“We have a list of things that people can help us with. We have to have a deed – we have that. We have to have a copy of our use permit – somebody could get that for us (from the county),” said association member and cemetery volunteer Evelyn Prouty who is also the director of the Manteca Historical Society and Museum which is spearheading the community-wide effort to preserve the burial ground of many of the area’s pioneers and leaders.

Finding the original use permit in the San Joaquin County Recorder’s office will likely involve some digging, Prouty said, especially considering the cemetery was founded in 1872. The use permit is an official record that shows the property is being used as a cemetery.

But “the biggie,” as Prouty described it, is the map of the cemetery. The one that has been in the cemetery office for some time needs to be updated. But to do that is easier said than done. That’s because through the years, there had been physical changes that took place at the cemetery.

There is, for example, an abandoned walkway “with 13 people buried there,” Prouty said. “There are records (of those burials) but how do I physically put that down on paper?”

She has tried to get that information from the state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau because these have to be turned in to the state every quarter as required by law. But Prouty said she was not able to get anything from Sacramento.

Since every burial record has to be submitted to the county, that’s her next option. And that’s where the association will need some help from the public, too, she said.

“Somebody can go to the county and say, ‘what happens when these things (burial records) are mailed in? What do you do with them?”

Volunteers needed while they wait for license
Prouty said the cemetery association is relying on volunteer help to get everything ready when they need to reapply for a business license.

This was one of the items discussed Saturday when the association held its annual general membership meeting at the historical museum.

“Basically, they are establishing a new business” when the association reapplies for a new license after the year-long revocation, Wallinder said.

“We still have the Endowment Care Fund. We did freeze that and we became the conservator. When the license is valid, we’ll transfer that endowment fund to the cemetery,” he said.

He added, “The bottom line is, we enjoy working with the people who are obviously putting their heart into it. We answer their calls whenever they have questions.”

The financial report given by the association’s volunteer treasurer, Leon Sucht, showed that the cemetery’s endowment fund that was seized by the state showed an amount of $70,000. That’s the amount that Sucht obtained from Edward Jones which is handling the endowment fund’s investment.

What happened to the rest of the roughly $200,000 to $255,000 that was in that fund is still the big questions. When the first new board that stepped up to save the cemetery in early summer last year found out that the old board had taken out a loan for which the association was paying $800 a month in interest, money was taken out of the endowment fund to pay off that loan and stop the monthly drain of funds. The state reacted by seizing the funds and by revoking the cemetery’s business license for a year.

What happened to the rest of the funds is still the subject of an investigation.

Wallinder said he “could not tell you anything” about the investigation because these are “not public information.”

An Endowment Care Fund is a trust account that is required by law on all private cemeteries licensed by the state Cemetery Bureau “to establish, maintain and operate.” Every time a cemetery sells a “plot” – which could be “a burial space in the ground, a crypt space in a mausoleum, or a niche space for cremated remains” – the cemetery collects an endowment care amount from the purchaser. Funds collected from that have to be placed in the trust account. The principal amount “can never be utilized.” Interest derived from that principal from investments or other interest-generating means can be used for the “ongoing maintenance of the cemetery in perpetuity,” according to the bureau’s web site.

Clean-up day set for May 9
Two things where the public can help the cemetery right away deals with the regular cleanup – the next one is scheduled for Saturday, May 9 – and fixing a broken water line beneath the asphalt inside the property. They need someone who can cut the asphalt so they can get to the broken pipe and “try to fix it,” Prouty said.

 “Water is trickling up through the crack in the asphalt. Once we get to it, we can probably fix it,” she said.

That’s the reason why the water at the cemetery is turned off “except when we’re there.”

The board also has some good news to share. The cemetery association just wrote out a check  for “little over $2,000 to buy 10 vaults because we have no more; we have used up everything. We still have about three of the companions (vaults), but we don’t have any more for the singles,” said Prouty whose husband, Bill Goode, is the current board president.

Burials that are currently taking place at the cemetery are the pre-paid ones; those are the plots that have been purchased and paid for before all the problems started. Burials for these are allowed by law.

“We do have some plots for sale but we’re not selling them,” Prouty said.

While the cemetery currently cannot sell plots, Prouty said there are two plots that the association sold previously but the family that purchased them moved to Texas, and when they died they were buried there. Now, survivors of that family want to sell those two plots. Anybody who wants to buy them can contact the association so they can be directed to the family. The cemetery does not get involved in the purchase transaction.

At the meeting Saturday, the membership also voted to add Father’s Day to the list of holidays when people can leave flowers on the graves of loved ones.
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