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Dinner honors pioneer families, helps cemetery
pioneer photo
Victoria Estrada, wearing a period costume and a Friends of the East Union Cemetery board member, leaves flowers at the Sperry family plot, early Pioneers to this area. - photo by Photo courtesy of Jenese Litle Borges-Soto

The public is invited to an old-fashioned Prairie Dinner Saturday at the American Legion Hall in Manteca. Guests may even come to the sumptuous dinner in period costume in keeping with the theme of the event.

This is not just a fun gathering, although attendees can expect to have plenty of that. The Prairie Dinner is intended “to honor the memory of the pioneer families and early settlers of this area” around the 1846 to 1879 period, explains Suzanne Clemens, a board member of the Friends of the East Union Cemetery. To add to the gaiety of the evening, guests whose ancestors came to this area by covered wagon or by way of The Horn, are encouraged to “bring family photos and stories to share,” added Clemens.

The purpose of the dinner, to take place from 4 to 8 p.m., is to raise money to help maintain East Union Pioneer Cemetery which is the resting place of many of the area’s early settlers. The cemetery is located on the southwest corner of Louise Avenue and Union Road.

There are still some dinner tickets available for purchase. Each ticket costs $20 and may be reserved or purchased from Suzanne by calling 209.815.7039 or from Victoria at 209.470.1697. Donations on top of ticket costs are also welcome and appreciated.

A ticket will entitle one to a dinner buffet consisting of ham, chicken, green beans with bacon, pinto trail beans, black skillet corn bread, and fruit crisp dessert. Dinner will be served from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. There will be a no-host bar with beer, wine and mixed drinks featuring Jack Daniels-adult lemonade. Dinners to-go will likewise be available.

There will be a door-prize opportunity drawing toward the end of the dinner. One need not be present to win.

“There are several board members that have a lot of family members that are original to Manteca, so it’s very near and dear to the board. There’s so much history and information to share,” said Victoria Estrada of the fund-raising effort to save and maintain the pioneer cemetery.

Clemens said she wants to remind everyone that all money generated from this fund-raiser will be “committed to preserve the community’s pioneer cemetery which was founded in 1872 as a final resting place for the citizens of Manteca, Lathrop, French Camp and surrounding areas.”

All the money will be used for equipment and supplies “to maintain the historic grounds; no salaries are to be paid. All work is voluntary,” added Clemens.

“We do have maintenance (issues) that has to be taken care of — sprinklers break, for example — things that cost us money,” she said.

Estrada said she is “hoping that the (Prairie Dinner) is our first annual.”

Overhead costs such as PG&E, insurance and burial equipment are paid for by money that comes from burials, she explained. Those funds are separate from the money raised by fund-raising events such as the Prairie Dinner which is hosted by the Friends of the East Union Memorial Cemetery, a completely separate entity which can accept tax-exempt donations, Clemens explained.

“All burials are completed by a team of volunteers which consists mostly of local veterans from the American Legion and VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). The burial team is headed by board member Billy Wyrick and coordinated by Treasurer-Gloria Stanley. Volunteer and board secretary Janet Fiore coordinates the funeral services and files regulatory papers with the State of California-Funeral Department,” Clemens said.

Janice Zacharias, the current president of the East Union Cemetery Association, oversees the general operations and daily business of the cemetery, she added.

The American Legion Hall is located at 220 East Yosemite Avenue in downtown Manteca.

The East Union Cemetery is located at 1035 North Union Road. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 591, Manteca, CA 95336. For further information about the historic cemetery, call 209.823.8533.