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Lawn mower needed for cemetery
Evelyn Prouty is among the volunteers cutting the grass at East Union Cemetery. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Wanted: A fund-raiser for a mower. Target goal: about $6,000.

That’s how much the Friends of the Union Cemetery will need to purchase a Hustler-brand mower that is needed to continue maintaining the historic resting place of many of the area’s pioneers and leaders.

The two cemetery-owned mowers are too old – they are vintage early 1970s – and are rife with mechanical problems that the parts are barely holding up. In fact, the contest between the two is: which one is easier to fix? Although, at any moment, that question could become: which one can still be fixed?

The Walker brand, said cemetery volunteer Evelyn Prouty, is “not that bad; it has its own problems, but it’s easier to fix than the other mower.”

The Hustler brand is the one that is in the last throes of its mechanical life. It’s been fixed and welded so many times “we’re welding weld,” Prouty said with an ironic laugh.

Actually, it’s hardly working. It just underwent a major repair that cost $800. And when it’s put on active commission out of dire necessity, the belt comes off every now and then which takes about 20 minutes each time to put it back, Prouty said.

This problem with the mowers is the “reason why the cemetery looks like it needs to be mowed,” she said.

The mowing is being done but not fast enough to keep the weeds down.

It takes one person 23 hours to mow the entire four-acre cemetery. Prouty said she found that out when husband and fellow cemetery volunteer Bill Good fell ill before Memorial Day and she had to do the job by herself.

The cemetery board is aware of the problem, she said, and the Friends of Union Cemetery have “talked about it and debated it.”

They’ve discussed the possibility of taking a loan to buy the equipment, but the Friends group can’t borrow money at this time due to some technical issues, Prouty said. The group can’t organize a fund-raiser by themselves either because there are not enough hands to put one together, or younger members who have the energy to tackle this demanding project.

Frank Guinta, who runs the Chez Shari restaurant at the Manteca Community Golf Course clubhouse on Union Road, has already offered the use of the upper dining room for the fund-raiser if a group is willing to organize one, according to Prouty.

“We’re open to suggestions for fund-raisers to get that kind of money,” she said of the amount that would be needed to purchase a new lawn mower.

They have looked at the possibility of buying residential-types of mowers which are cheaper, but these just don’t have the integrity and longevity of a Walker or a Hustler brand, she explained. The two brands also have the versatility and maneuverability that are needed to tackle the special challenges of running the equipment over the concrete curbs and between the headstones, Prouty pointed out. She said they have already shopped around and have found a Hustler brand that’s being sold by a dealer in Tracy.

“It’s very similar to the one we have,” although more modern, she said.

It was the Friends of the East Union Cemetery which  saved the day for the beleaguered historic burial place two  years ago when problems began brewing which eventually resulted in  the state freezing and taking over all of the cemetery’s bank accounts until the association has straightened up all its problems including obtaining a new business license from the state. Because the old cemetery board also failed to keep the association’s business license current by failing to pay the license fee, sale of burial plots was discontinued leaving the cemetery with no revenues.

Nevertheless, thanks to the work of the Friends of the Cemetery, services continued. Over the last two years starting in June 2008 when a new board replaced the old one, Prouty, along with  a good number of volunteers in the community that included service clubs, youth groups and church ministries, worked together to prevent the deterioration of the historic cemetery into a weed patch.

Burials during this time were done by Prouty and Good, who is the president of the new cemetery board, with the help of a handful of dedicated and loyal volunteers that included Leon Sucht and Victor Gully, since the two cemetery caretakers had to be laid off due to lack of funds.

To date, Prouty said the cemetery has had “up to 64 burials.” Even though the state banned the sale of plots, the cemetery was allowed to bury those who have purchased them before the problems began.