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Honoring the past, planning for the future
eu cemetery trio
East Union Cemetery Association board members Janet Fiore, Janice Zacharias, and Gloria Stanley sit on one of the benches that are part of a columbarium being built with space for 760 niches and 40 family niches.

Burying the past is not what the Friends of the East Union Cemetery Association does.

They honor it.

The pioneer cemetery on the southwest corner of Union Road and Louise Avenue is marking its 150th anniversary in September.

There are those buried there in 3,300 some graves that died years before 1872.

They were moved to East Union by families who had buried their loved ones on their farms. They were grateful that then San Joaquin County Supervisor Alvin Shedd had donated the original two acres of the now 5-acre cemetery so people could have a proper resting place.

The cemetery, though, almost became as neglected as the graves that likely still dot the Manteca-Lathrop countryside of other pioneers long forgotten.

The cemetery as a private non-profit association relied on an endowment funded by membership fees to cover the cost of ongoing maintenance.

For years there was paid staff. But the endowment model unraveled more than a decade ago.

Workers could no longer be paid. The state, for a variety of reasons, yanked a license required to operate a cemetery from the cemetery association that existed at the time.

The state froze the endowment. No more burial plots could be sold. The state did allow families that had bought plots in advance to use them to bury their loved ones but that was it.

Without the endowment there was no money to maintain and upkeep the cemetery.

That’s when volunteers stepped up. They cut the grass. They organized work parties to weed and address minor repairs.

They even dug graves.

Today East Union Cemetery is back on stable footing.

A volunteer, Jim Carter, secured a cemetery manager’s certificate and was licenses by the state.

Benefactors have stepped up.

They’ve funded wrought iron fencing and security gates for the perimeter.

Interior roads have been repaved. Waterlines replaced.

Neglected areas have been refurbished.

Areas for meditation have been added.

Grave plots again are being sold.

And the endowment has been unfrozen.

Volunteers, however, are still running the show.

And donations of funds, labor and even equipment are still needed.

That’s because the association is allowing the endowment to grow. The reason is simple. Using interest as allowed to pay ongoing expenses would mean a limited future for the cemetery.

The endowment sits at $520,000. Even if interest were 8 percent, which it is far from, the endowment would only generate $41,600 annually.

Annual expenses between backhoe and other equipment maintenance and repairs, PG&E bills to run the water well and what lighting there is, plus a variety of all expenses adds up to $61,000.

The decision to keep allowing the endowment to grow robust enough to at least fund ongoing maintenance costs minus labor decades from now bodes for a better future for East Union Cemetery.

It is why fundraisers as well as opening and closing costs associated with grave sites are used to cover the annual $61,000 in operating expenses.

It works because of volunteers.

Any paid model would essentially doom the cemetery to return it to the previous path volunteers have dedicated themselves to abandoning over the past 10 years plus.

Even so the cemetery is not in a holding pattern.

Although there are 3,300 that hold remains, there are 600 full burial plots and 1,000 plus cremation burial sites left.

Full body graves can be purchased in advance at a cost of two for $6,400. That is in addition to opening and closing costs plus other expenses associated with the burial.

The association, thanks to donations, has started work on a columbarium for the placement of cremation ashes.

There will be space for 760 niches and 40 family niches.

Two areas with decorative planters each surrounded by four benches will be created.

At the heart of it will be a veterans’ plaza.

It will feature an American flag surrounded by flag poles displaying the flag of each branch of military service.

Given the sacrifices made of many already buried there — 15 percent of 480 of the burials at the cemetery are veterans — it is a fitting gesture.

Part of the effort in recent years has been the painstaking process of updating records. Now almost all graves have a record of who is buried in them with information — if available — that goes beyond just names and dates of death.

The cemetery office is open from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

You can call (209) 823-8533 or email


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email