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Grave golfing irks volunteers
EU Cemetery also strewn with beer & whiskey bottles
Shown are some of the nearly two-dozen golf balls found scattered on the East Union Cemetery grounds by volunteers Evelyn Prouty and Bill Good last week when they went to mow the grass at the property. The red pail on the left is where they keep the golf balls that they collect every time they go to clean up the cemetery. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Please don’t play golf in the cemetery.

That request is coming from the East Union Cemetery Association which owns and operates the historic burial ground of early pioneers and community leaders in the area. The cemetery, which was founded in 1872, is located on the southwest corner of Louise Avenue and Union Road in Manteca.

Spring generally brings nice weather and colorful flowers. But all that is nice about the season’s balmy weather does not necessarily mean the same thing as far as the cemetery volunteers are concerned.

“The nice weather has brought more and more crud,” noted cemetery cleanup volunteer Evelyn Prouty who, along with cemetery association president Bill Good, can be found several days a week at the Union Road-Louise Avenue property mowing, weed-eating, and picking up trash such as golf balls and beer bottles when they are not busy in the office catching up with paper work.

On a recent day alone when they went to mow and clean up the cemetery, she picked up half a dozen golf balls. And that’s just from walking around the center and north sections of the cemetery for an hour before she started mowing. There are “easily more than a dozen, maybe two-dozen” golf balls at any given time strewn all over among the grasses, Prouty said.

“I know there are more (lying around) because I’ve run over them (with the lawn mower) thinking they were a dandelion puff or something,” she said.

“The problem is I have to stop mowing” whenever that happens, she said, which not only slows down the job significantly but also makes it doubly hard to do.

To avoid those interruptions, she usually walks around the cemetery looking for golf balls before starting the mower. Prouty does not believe the balls are coming from the houses nearby but are more likely the result of people doing their putting practice in the cemetery.

People practicing golf game over weekend?

“They’re too spread out; (the golfers) have to be in the cemetery” to leave the balls where they are usually found, she said.

And certainly, “they’re not coming from the golf course” which is about a half-mile to the south along Union Road, she added.

More likely, they are left there by people “practicing their shots” on Saturday or Sunday.

“Maybe they are putting into the holes in the headstones, but I don’t think so,” she said.

“I have a pretty good collection of golf balls now that I pick up when I mow. They’re everywhere,” Prouty said.

But golf balls are not the only problems besetting volunteers working at the cemetery. On the same day Prouty found the golf balls last week, it took Good more than two hours picking up trash that included balloons that have blown away by the wind and all kinds of paper.

“Not flowers, just trash,” Prouty said.

Their main concern, though, are the Mylar balloons that are being left on loved ones’ graves. They are blown away across the cemetery within minutes, she said. However, the more serious problem is what happens when those balloons “get on power lines” and disrupt power service, Prouty said.

“So we’ve asked (cemetery visitors” not to leave the balloons,” she said.

“This is no laughing matter,” an online story quoted Sen. Jack Scott (D-Pasadena) about the potential dangers of Mylar balloons.

Scott is the author of Senate Bill 1499 which seeks to ban foil-lined party balloons in California because of the power outages they cause when they get snagged in power lines. The bill passed through the California assembly but was rejected by Governor Arnold  Schwarzenegger.

In 2007, according to an online report, foil balloons caused 211 outages for Pacific Gas & Electric, 470 outages for Southern California Edison power company, with Burbank Water and Power reporting one-third of its outages caused by foil balloons caught in transformers. The same report stated that these outages caused businesses to lose $120 million annually, according to an estimate from the Electric Power Research Institute.

Opponents to SB 1499 included florists, special-event planners and small businesses who said the bill could cost them $100 million which could translate to loss of as much as $80 million in tax revenues for the state.
Prouty was not sure whether the cemetery would be liable for repairs if a Mylar balloon from the cemetery caused damage to a power pole. Nonetheless, any Mylar balloon left at a grave site is taken out “immediately.”

Cemetery will enforce flowers on grave policy
The cemetery association is preparing a sign to put up at the gates to the cemetery reminding visitors about the policy regarding flowers brought to the cemetery. Currently, flowers can be left on the grave sites on the following special dates: Easter, Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Christmas.

Those visiting loved ones’ graves in the west section of the cemetery are also asked to make sure the built-in vases on the flat headstones are turned upside down, or if they are left upright to make sure they don’t contain standing water so as not to create a situation that would attract mosquitoes. The mosquito abatement district does send crews to the cemetery regularly to test any standing water left in the vases for mosquito larvae and then do the spraying, but “I’m sure they’d appreciate it if people turn over the vases so they don’t hold water,” Prouty said.

It took two days for the abatement personnel to spray the cemetery the last time, she said.

Since the early summer of last year, when the state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau of the Department of Consumer Affairs seized the bank accounts and endowment care funds of the association resulting in the layoff of the two cemetery caretakers, cleaning up the cemetery has relied on the kindness and generosity of various individuals, church groups, community organizations and businesses in the community. A nonprofit Friends of the East Union Cemetery was also established to raise money, provide support and help maintain the nearly five-acre historic burial property.
The state made the move to freeze the cemetery endowment funds and revoke the association’s business license after the old board failed to pay the association’s business license fees, and the first re-organized board took money out of the endowment fund to pay off a loan taken out years before by the association which was draining $800 a month in interest alone. The state ruled that action by the association was illegal.

The cemetery association hopes to get back to the business of selling burial plots as early as August or, at the latest, in October of this year.

The current cemetery board is currently making plans to create a Memorial Garden as well as improve the landscaping at the cemetery. Anybody interested in helping this effort, and to help maintain the cemetery, is asked to call 823-8533 for more information. Donations to the Friends of the Cemetery may be mailed to P.O. Box 591, Manteca, CA 95336. Make checks payable to Friends of the Cemetery.