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East Union cemetery ceremonies April 14
eu cemetery
Janice Zacharias, left, and Janet Fiore display a sample of headstones the East Union Memorial Cemetery Association is seeking to raise funds for the unmarked graves of pioneer children and teens buried at the historic cemetery.

Three men that fought in the Civil War are buried at East Union Memorial Cemetery without headstones.

That will change on Saturday, April 14.

Headstones for the three Union soldiers that are being dedicated and their service — along with that of 13 other Civil War soldiers all of whom served in the Union Army — are being commemorated in a ceremony being conducted by The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, Camp 22, Sacramento. The ceremonies conducted in period uniforms take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 14, at the cemetery at Louise Avenue and Union Road. Free hotdogs, chips drinks and dessert will be served to those attending after the ceremonies. The event is open to the community.

It is part of events marking Manteca’s centennial year of its incorporation as a city on May 28, 1917.

The East Union Memorial Cemetery Association has been run by non-paid volunteers more than 10 years after it lost its state’s licensing. They recently had a volunteer pass required testing to serve as the cemetery manager that is one of the steps required to gain re-licensing from the state. They are partially through the relicensing effort.

Meanwhile, volunteers have worked to not only maintain the grounds but to also make sure those that have already purchased plots can be buried there. The state, however, will not allow any new plots to be sold until the cemetery obtains a new license.

There are more than 3,200 people buried at the cemetery. There is space for between 1,000 and 1,200 more graves given that more than half of the burials taking place today consist of urns containing ashes.

The association has taken it upon itself not just to clean up the cemetery but to make sure the history and the proper respect is given to those buried there.

That has consisted of locating unmarked graves as well as making sure all who have served in the military and are buried there are acknowledged.

Janet Zacharias, the president of the cemetery association, told Manteca Rotarians during their meeting Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room that because of that effort there are now 350 plus graves of veterans that are acknowledged with flags on Memorial Day.

Previously only 160 veterans graves were given such honors.

The association also has located the unmarked graves of 70 pioneer children plus 20 veterans who lack proper headstones.

They are working to contact families of the veterans to assist them in working with the Department of Defense to make sure a proper headstone are placed on the veterans grave. The Defense Department is providing the headstones for the three Union soldiers as it has done for a number of other veterans that the association discovered did not have the proper markings and were able to work with families to make the needed request.

“Many of the children were likely buried with wooden markers that deteriorated,” Zacharias said.

Simpson Stone Works in Salida has agreed to provide the cemetery with headstones for the children at $50 apiece. Of the 70 pioneer children they discovered did not have headstones, 65 are still unmarked. The other five have been paid for through donations. Those interested in donating can contact Zacharias at 209.603.7338 or association secretary Janice Fiore at 209.275.0265. Fiore can also be emailed at

Zacharias noted volunteers have given time and money as have businesses and organizations to keep the 141-year-old cemetery — the oldest concern in Manteca — in good repair.

Zacharias noted prior to the cemetery being established pioneers would bury their dead on their farms. Cemeteries were established prior to East Union near Mossdale Crossing and in Lathrop. The East Union Cemetery was formed after San Joaquin County Supervisors Alvin Shedd donated two acres of his farm.

Sixty of Manteca’s first pioneers who settled here between 1846 and 1879 are buried at the cemetery.

Tidbits about the cemetery include:

uIt was originally named Union Cemetery but in 1955 the cemetery lost its official status with the state over paperwork issues. When the proper work was refiled in 1955, the name Union Cemetery Association had been snapped up by another cemetery in California. The decision was made to add the world “east” to the official cemetery title at the time.

uThe name “East Union” fit in as the original Union School that had been to the west closer to Lathrop was moved to the corner of Union Road and Louise Avenue and rechristened East Union School. The intersection also was home to the Union Church.

uIn 1920, Henrietta Reynolds led the drive to improve the looks of the cemetery. That effort included adding the arch that lists the heads of households that settled in the Manteca area between 1946 and 1879.

uJoshua Cowell, the founder of Manteca is buried there.

uThe first person buried in the cemetery was Adeline Reynolds whose grave is on the corner of Louise and Union just inside the fence.

uThe headstones have prompted association members to conduct research. They noted one headstone of Elijah E. Borah with the marking of 18 years 3 months, and 25 days who passed away on July 10, 1852 led to research that he died heading to the southern Sierra gold mines from San Francisco after surviving the perilous journey around Cape Horn.

uBermuda grass is a big problem at the cemetery. “Missing graves” have been discovered beneath Bermuda grass that has grown 8 inches deep.

uGophers are also a major challenge for the association.

uThe association stages two annual clean-up days and also relies on volunteers at other times to help keep the cemetery presentable.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin