It is now possible for you or a loved one to be buried in Manteca when you die.
East Union Memorial Cemetery’s state license has recently been restored meaning the non-profit association can once again start selling burial plots. The cemetery’s license was revoked in 2008. Since then only those who had already purchased burial plots were allowed by the State of California to be buried at the cemetery on the southwest corner of Union Road and Louise Avenue.
“It is a great comfort to people,” noted East Union Memorial Cemetery Board President Janice Zaharias said.
She noted after a burial earlier this month, family and friends have been daily visitors to the gravesite as they go through the grief and healing process. For the last 11 years unless a family already had purchased a deed to a burial plot at East Union, they often had no choice but to bury loved ones away from Manteca often going as far as Lodi.
The cemetery has been run by volunteers for the past 11 years and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. That is because the endowment fund that the state froze when they revoked the cemetery’s license in 2008 can only have the interest it generates used to cover maintenance and upkeep.
Even to have a contracted landscaping service in lieu of hiring part-time employees, the board has been told it would cost at least $80,000 a year.
Zacharias and Janet Fiore who serves as office manager, are part of a group that took over 4½ years ago. They took over for Evelyn Prouty and Bill Good who had stepped up after an initial group that worked to keep the cemetery open after the license was revoked moved.
They had been invited to a meeting and before it ended found themselves in board leadership roles after Good indicated he could no longer continue.
One of their top priorities was to find someone willing to take the state’s cemetery manager’s test. James Carter, a board member since the current board was formed on June 3, 2015, did the necessary studying and ended up passing the test in 2018. It then took an exhaustive 1½ year process for the cemetery founded in 1872 to get its license back.
They are currently in need of people with expertise in operating a backhoe to dig graves when needed and then to lower caskets and close the graves after funerals. Currently volunteers with the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars plus others have been available to perform those tasks. The need for volunteers is expected to pick up with the cemetery being able to resume selling plots.
There are also volunteers that work when they can throughout the year to do basic mowing and other maintenance. But because there are numerous headstones — more than 3,200 people are buried there — plus the cemetery covering five acres, groups and volunteers stepping up for periodic clean up days are essential.
The importance of fundraising by the support organization Friends of the East Union Cemetery and the generosity of concerns such as Bass Pro Shops that donated a fireproof gun safe for the exclusive storage of gravesite records and other information regarding who is buried at the cemetery is underscored by the reality of the cemetery’s bank accounts.
While there are charges for the opening and closing of graves as well as an association fee designed to cover ongoing costs plus cover the actual plot and burial vault, running the cemetery without a paid staff is expensive. At one point they had a $12 balance in their operating account.
Besides relying on donations of equipment as well as supplies and money, the group also finds unique ways to get what is needed to keep East Union Cemetery looking as good as possible.
“One year I asked Frank (her husband) for a push mower for my birthday,” Fiore recalled.
That push mower has enabled volunteers to cut between headstones where the riding lawn mower can’t get.
A donation from a trust for L.P. and Leonard Tsuneko allowed East Union Cemetery to install decorative — and more secure — wrought iron fencing along Union Road and Louise Avenue as well as repave the interior travel lanes.
The cemetery has recently finished installing a new pump for their water well. Among the major projects they hope to pursue soon is a mausoleum niche for the above ground burial of cremation urns.
A passion for genealogy and a desire to keep Manteca’s most visible tie to those that helped build the community open and maintained attracted Zacharias and Fiore to devote considerable energy to the cemetery. Both can trace their Manteca roots back for generations. Both also worked at Manteca Unified School District campuses before retiring — Fiore as a clerk at East Union High and Zacharias as a teacher at Shasta and then Great Valley schools.
They have painstakingly pieced together a map of who is buried where that has been placed on an Excel spreadsheet as well. In addition Fiore has created binders dedicated to providing what information see can retrieve on those buried at the cemetery back to its inception. The ones in recent years are more robust with copies of obituaries and other items while many older ones just have a photo of the headstone.
The cemetery has more than 700 standard gravesite plots as well as 4,000 spaces for cremation urns left to sell. They also have 24-month interest free financing. The burial plots come with deeds allowing them to be sold in the event the buyer changes plans down the road and opts for burial elsewhere.
While the gates are secured during hours the cemetery is closed, they will make accommodations to open the gates at other times.
In one instance a family prefers to visit the grave of a loved one at 2 a.m. when they go to the cemetery as that is the time the person died. Sometimes there are people who have traveled from out of state who need to access it on specific days.
Such requests — including information on burial plots or how can you help the effort to keep the cemetery functioning and in the best possible condition can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (209) 823-8533. Both are checked daily.
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