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Now they’re stealing sprinklers from cemetery

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POSTED August 18, 2009 10:52 a.m.

First, unknown would-be Tiger Woods were using the grass at the East Union Cemetery to practice their golf swing. They left several dozen evidences behind which rather ticked off cemetery cleanup volunteers.


Now, it’s the vanishing sprinklers that are worrying cemetery officials.


When they noticed four or five of the sprinklers missing, cemetery association member and perennial volunteer Evelyn Prouty thought, “somebody’s doing their yard.”


When the number of missing sprinklers climbed up to a dozen, Prouty thought the phantom sprinkler thief must have a big yard.


After giving it more thought, she realized this is more than just stealing. It’s also vandalism, she said.


“In the last six or eight weeks, vandals have damaged more than 50 sprinklers at East Union Cemetery. At first we thought perhaps cars were backing into sprinklers, but we couldn’t find the damaged pipe or sprinklers. And some of those broken off and taken were well inside the cemetery away from the roads,” she told the Bulletin via e-mail.


“We have been desperately trying to keep the lawn green and losing that many sprinklers has made it nearly impossible. Cost is preventing us from purchasing sprinklers as they break,” she said.


Replacement sprinklers have been costing the cemetery about $20 apiece, Prouty said. There are cheaper ones that they can purchase. The problem is, the cheaper sprinklers can only reach 20 to 30 feet. The watering grid system at the cemetery is set up so that each sprinkler must cover a 40-foot section, Prouty explained.


The other problem, and a more serious one, is that the cemetery just doesn’t have the money to keep on replacing these stolen sprinklers, she said.


As those who have been following the plight of this endowment cemetery since the summer of 2008 are aware of, the state’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau has suspended the association’s business license and frozen all of its bank accounts due to the old board’s nonpayment of business fees, taking money out of the endowment fund for expenses that are still being investigated, among other reasons. The cemetery association, under a new board, continues to work with state officials to get the business license renewed.

Cost of burials
keep going up

In the meantime, the state has allowed burials to continue but only for those who have prepaid plots. The association though cannot sell burial plots under the state’s current mandate.


“As you know, we can only bury those who have pre-paid for a plot. The last several burials had been pre-paid in the early 1980s when costs were a lot less than now. These more recent burials have cost the cemetery $600 or $700 each. Costs for the cemetery to purchase a concrete vault have quadrupled since people paid for them 20 or 30 years ago,” explained Prouty who, besides being the director of the Manteca Historical Museum, is the wife of current cemetery association president Bill Good.


“We have been surviving on burials and donations for 10 months but the recent vandalism has really taken a heavy toll on our already depleted bank account,” Prouty added.


Thanks to community volunteers and other concerned individuals from out of town who have heard about the cemetery’s plight, the historic burial site did not turn into a weed patch as many had feared when the state seized the association’s assets and suspended its business license.

Combined with the volunteer manpower was the establishment of the nonprofit Friends of the East Union Cemetery which has been able to help raise needed funds to maintain the nearly five-acre plot on the southwest corner of Louise Avenue and Union Road.

Last donation was
$25 about month ago

Unfortunately, the funds have dwindled as donations have trickled in the last few months.


The last donation was received about a month ago, and in the four or five months before that, they received maybe a $25 to $50 donation.


On top of that, the cemetery had also lost money in some of the prepaid burials where “everything” – from the opening and closing of the vault which are separate expenses, and the vault itself, plus the payment for the endowment – was paid.


“The burials have been killing us because they’ve already been paid,” at least, for two or three of the last burials, Prouty said.


In the case of burials where only the plots have been paid, the association was able to charge for the vault, and the opening and closing of the vault under current rates and not under prices that were in effect in the 1980s or prior to that, she said.


The last burial cost the cemetery $250 “because we had to pry the vault” which was paid under prevailing prices in the 1980s. The prices have gone up since then, so the cemetery had to cough up the inflation difference.


The good news is that many of the volunteers continue to come and help with the clean-up, weed eating and mowing the place. There’s a dedicated cleanup crew, for example, of about 15 to 18 people who were part of the original group from Crossroads Grace Community Church, that continue to come and help with the clean-up on a regular basis, Prouty said. There’s also a very dedicated husband and wife who live in Los Banos but they come to help. The wife’s father is buried at the cemetery.


Most recently, Prouty said, “they did the whole section – when you come in off Union Road, from there all the way north to the corner – they worked three long days straight. They mowed, they used weed-eaters, pruned the roses and the trees. They even bought some sprinklers for that section. They really worked their tail off.”


It seems cemetery officials should not be the only ones to worry about the disappearing sprinklers though. Without sprinklers, the grass at the cemetery would die. Without the grass, the unknown would-be pro golfers will have to find other green pastures to practice their swing.

To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail  ralbanorisso@mantecabulletin.com or call (209) 249-3536.

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