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East Union association controls endowment
cemetery court

The East Union Cemetery along with an endowment fund is once again 100 percent in local control.

A San Joaquin County Superior Court judge earlier this month returned control of the endowment fund — that had been in the state’s control since 2008 due to irregularities — to the East Union Cemetery Association. The EUCA in May had obtained a new certificate of operation from the California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau needed so they could serve selling burial plots.

There are about 700 standard burial spaces as well as 4,000 places for cremation burials at the historic cemetery at Union Road and Louise Avenue.

The formal action by the court was the result of a five year effort that was realized in October when, in a small room of the California Superior Court in Stockton, a judge certified that the current board of directors of East Union Cemetery had done the work necessary to be given control of the EUCA endowment fund. Retired board member Leon Sucht unexpectedly received a packet from the court, and was both proud and anxious to accompany current board members as they went to see if the plea to restore the endowment fund would be approved. The satisfaction of a resounding ‘yes’ was evident on everyone’s face.

Historically the pioneer cemetery, begun in 1872, was run by a small board of trustees, a manager, and a groundskeeper. In the summer of 2014, a few people gathered for the annual member meeting, and found that the board had dwindled down to three members, two of which retired that day – leaving four novices on the newly-formed board. The focus for the first couple of years was just to keep things running day-to-day — and to learn.
Board members Pat Metzler, Gloria Stanley, and Janice Zacharias started digging through twenty-five dusty, sometimes rodent-infested cardboard boxes, sorting the contents into piles of financial, historical, and burial records – along with large amounts of junk. Janet Fiore was soon given all the burial records to organize, Gloria took over the financial end, Janice started making maps, and John Strouss took care of the grounds and burials.

In 2015 a new, larger volunteer board was formed, and the dream of once again getting a license began to be discussed. The search for all the information that was needed for the State of California Funeral and Cemetery board slowly gathered steam, and by September 2017, all the paperwork was submitted to the state. Almost two years later — May 28, 2019 — a new certificate of operation was granted, no strings attached. The only hurdle left was the appeal to the State to relinquish the endowment fund, which had been in the Superior Court’s control since 2008.

The now 13-member, still all-volunteer board has been very supportive of ‘doing it right’, and much credit must be given to the guidance of long-time community members like Suzanne Clemens, John Harris, and Willie Weatherford. A separate set of five trustees has been appointed to administer the Endowment and Special Care trust funds for the cemetery. Just last week all the proper papers were signed, and the trustees are now able to administer the funds.

 Current treasurer Steve Stroud noted that, “We want our records to be as transparent as possible – to be able to stand up to the scrutiny of an annual audit. All funds donated go to cemetery needs – no one here is paid.”

Board president Janice Zacharias wants everyone to know what she has learned: that the endowment care fund cannot be used for daily operations.

“I’ve come to think of it as the ‘retirement fund’ for the cemetery itself – when all the plots are sold, there have to be funds available for perpetual care,” Zacharias said. “That is the goal -and state requirement- of an endowment fund – to be there when all of us are gone, so it stays green and well-cared for, a place of quiet reflection and refuge.”

One other myth to dispel – there is still plenty of space available at the cemetery.

 Victoria Estrada, secretary, said, “It’s hard to believe, but there are about 700 full spaces left, and around 4000 spaces for cremation buria1,” noted Victoria Estrada who serves as secretary.

In addition, plans are currently being drawn for a cremation garden, with a focus on niches and a veteran’s plaza – not only to honor the 460 veterans already interred, but to provide space for the future.