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Junior Women, bingo benefit EU Cemetery

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Junior Women, bingo benefit EU Cemetery

Irma Payne marks off her cards during Wednesday's game at the FESM Hall. She's been playing bingo for 27 years.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED January 9, 2009 1:18 a.m.

The Friends of the East Union Cemetery had a pleasant surprise waiting for them at the bingo fund-raiser Wednesday night at the FESM Hall sponsored by the Assyrian-Armenian Cultural Center.

It came in the form of a $500 check presented by Uthaula Miller on behalf of the Manteca Junior Women’s Club.

“That was fantastic!” said Bill Good of the Friends of the Cemetery who is also the president of the cemetery association board.

The presentation was a complete surprise, he said.

He had gone up to the counter to do something related to the game going on when a man and a woman came up to him and asked if he was Bill Good.

After responding in the affirmative, said Good, “the woman said, ‘well, I’m so and so and I got a check here for $500 from the Manteca Junior Women’s Club.’ I said, thank you, thank you, and we went over to a corner to take a picture” of the presentation.

After that, Good took over the microphone from Friends treasurer Leon Sucht to announce the donation that was just made and to profusely thank the club for their philanthropic act.

The woman who presented the check to Good was Uthauna Miller.

“I’m the one who brought up the cemetery (issue to the club) because my daughter and my father are buried there. I asked the club, ‘is there anything we could do, maybe do a fund-raiser and then present (the proceeds) to the cemetery?’”

That was at the Tuesday night’s club meeting.

“They asked what was going on so I explained to them the situation with the (cemetery) board and the state taking away the funds, or what I’ve learned so far (about what’s going on),” Miller said. She also shared with them her concerns about what would happen to the cemetery and how they could “lose the cemetery all together.” Without much ado, the club agreed to donate money that they had available to help the cemetery cause.

They took a vote on the motion and it was unanimous.

Wednesday night, Miller took the check to the bingo benefit at FESM Hall and presented the check to Good.

The Junior Women’s vote to help with the cemetery upkeep was more than just a donation of money. The club was also making a statement and a challenge to the community — to other clubs and organizations, businesses, families and individuals.

“We want to call upon all the other groups in the area to match, if not beat, our donation,” Miller explained.

Miller said she is well aware of the issues facing the cemetery. She has been at one of the cemetery board’s meetings and was also present at the press conference held at the cemetery “when the members of the first board stepped down.”

And yes, she is aware of the recently enforced rules about the removal of flowers and mementoes left at grave sites and how that angered some people with loved ones buried there. But, said Miller, she agreed with the “young man” who spoke at the board meeting she attended and pointed out that “we have bigger things to be concerned with” if they can’t get the fiscal matter resolved first.

That’s a bigger issue “than how well we can decorate our cemetery. I want to make sure it stays there. Once it’s back in operation, then we can start negotiations on how often we can put flowers there,” Miller said.

She visits the graves of her daughter and father about once a month, she said, “but I wave and talk to her, shall we say, every time I drive by.”

Her worst fear, she said, is to see the cemetery unable to continue operating because of lack of funds and then have “all the bodies (at the cemetery moved) to the closest federal cemetery which is in San Jose,” where she will not be able to readily visit the graves of her daughter and father. That would not happen “if we can get the funds and get the cemetery back in operation,” Miller said.

“Even if I can’t go out and put flowers (at her daughter’s grave), just knowing she’s there close is a lot better” than having her grave elsewhere, she said.

“Burying a child is hard enough; reburying them is not an option,” she added.

Miller lost her daughter in an accident on Airport Way in 1991. She was pulling into her driveway, with her two daughters and son in the car, when a vehicle going 65 to 70 miles broadsided her car on the passenger side. Her oldest daughter, Joanne, who was nearly 12 at the time and was sitting on the passenger side where the impact occurred, was killed instantly.

Her other daughter, Tatiana, and son, Nathan, who were 10 and 8 at the time, survived unscathed. Miller sustained major injuries.

“I have no memory of that day; my father buried my daughter there (at East Union Cemetery) for me because I couldn’t.”

Good said the bingo benefit raised $1,700 for the Friends of the Cemetery, but the Assyrian-Armenian group rounded up the donation to $2,000. The money was presented to the Cemetery Friends that same evening. Good added that there were other people who stopped by at the FESM and did not play but gave some small donations like $20 to the cause.

Nearly a hundred people attended the bingo fund-raiser. Good said the sponsors informed the Cemetery Friends that they will be doing another similar benefit sometime in the future to help with the cemetery maintenance.

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