Years ago, a woman so distraught over the passing of her husband, scaled the chain link fence of the East Union Cemetery under cover of darkness to spend the night next to her departed beloved’s grave. Strange as that story may sound, she was the second one to do just that. That’s just two of the many interesting – for lack of a better term – stories coming out of the pioneer cemetery since its establishment in 1872.
Evelyn Prouty knew those stories, and more. I heard many tales that she always loved to share including some that made me think of the Manteca Bulletin in a much different light, and which were impossible to recall without breaking into a smile. She worked at this paper for many years before she moved on to become a newspaper editor in the foothills.
She told me the story of Louise Avenue being named after her maternal great-great-grandmother. Her name was Louisa Clapp and was a member of the early pioneers of this area. As to why and when Louisa became Louise was lost in the mist of history, she noted. But she remembered being told that Louise Avenue was a narrow dirt road that led to her pioneer family’s spread and was originally called Louisa Road.
I am deeply saddened that I won’t hear any more stories from Evelyn. She passed away on Thursday, July 24, after a long battle with kidney disease.
She was such the consummate story teller that spending an hour with her, either in person or on the phone in conversation, was enough to provide you with material worth putting together into a novella’s worth of publication. But as much as her stories were always meaty – like most reporters, she had a cache of stories that didn’t make their way to publication for a number of sensitive reasons but which tabloids like National Inquirer would love to print – it was her unique delivery that added a unique dimension to those stories.
I originally knew her as Evelyn Thompson. She was the People editor for the daily Manteca Bulletin, and I was a reporter at the weekly and now-defunct Manteca News across Yosemite Street. I always enjoyed reading her feature stories but never met her in person. By the time I came on board the Bulletin after being offered the job of Lifestyle Editor by the late Darrell Phillips who was the publisher at the time, Evelyn has moved on to bigger and better things in the great Mother Lode country as a newspaper editor while continuing to work as a reporter. She was editor of the Amador Ledger Dispatch from 1980 to 1992. She had a seemingly never-ending string of stories from her experiences at that newspaper – she could have easily turned all that into a book also – and about the many interesting people in the area.
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Returned to Manteca to live in family’s pioneer home
It was after she came back to Manteca to live at the family’s pioneer home place on French Camp Road that I came to really know Evelyn. By then, I was also a fan of hers. I’ve read her book, “Manteca: Selected chapters from its history,” and purchased some more to give away as gifts. I even got a chance to buy from her hardbound copies of the book. These were the first-printing copies that were saved from the fire that burned the Bulletin building which also destroyed the books. She originally wrote the history book as a series for the newspaper. Later, the stories were compiled into book form which the Bulletin, which was then owned by the Murphy family, offered for sale. I think I can safely say, everything I knew about Manteca I read from Evelyn’s book.
It’s hard to compress into just a few hundred words the many qualities that made Evelyn stand out. She had a can-do attitude that would have made her pioneer progenitors really proud. When there was no one to dig the graves after the fiasco that followed the state freezing all of the cemetery association’s assets, she and her life partner, Bill Good, along with one or two volunteers like the late Victor Gully, took shovel in hand and did the digging. Bill operated the old backhoe that mercifully was there to use.
They did not know how to operate the different equipment necessary for a burial. They learned by sight and by trial and error. When the cemetery’s ancient mower broke down – and it happened quite often – she and Bill brought their own lawn mower to get rid of the weeds that made the cemetery an eye sore.
They did all that for the longest time completely gratis.
To raise public awareness to the needs of the historic cemetery – fiscal and maintenance – when the problems started, she organized an informational meeting at the cemetery. The meeting was going to be followed by a tour of the burial grounds on the southwest corner of Louise Avenue and Union Road. The event successfully went as planned, with many people in attendance. Unbeknownst to the people who attended the event, Evelyn’s younger daughter had passed away just hours before. Yet she stoically went on to finish what she set out to do for a great cause.
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Jack of all trades from reporter to grave digger
Evelyn’s family remembers her as someone who was a Jane of all trades with a natural knack – as a “reporter, editor, journalist, author, publisher, entrepreneur, and last but not least, a grave digger.”
Her publishing and entrepreneurship was demonstrated in the Fickle Nickel Press which she published from 1992 to 2008.
Born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton on June 28, 1946, Evelyn’s full name was Evelyn Lee “Bebe” Prouty. She graduated from Manteca High School, Class of 1964. She also attended Delta College in Stockton.
“She didn’t go to college, but she continued on to receive a lifetime of wisdom,” Bill said proudly. “She had a style,” he said about Evelyn’s natural writing abilities.
Being the author of Manteca’s definitive history to date, Evelyn was a natural choice as executive director of the Manteca Historical Museum, a position she held from March of 2008 until several months ago. That, and her penchant for genealogy and history. She served as president of the Historical Society for a number of years. She also had a green thumb and enjoyed puttering in the garden. The many lush perennials and annuals around the home place attest to that favorite hobby. She loved everything that grew on the property including the ancient towering sycamore tree that dwarfed the old house. But she always cautioned with her signature laughter not to plant sycamore on your property. Getting rid of the think and heavy leaves in the fall is not worth it, she would say, laughing.
In 2010, Evelyn was inducted into Manteca’s Hall of Fame for Community Service.
She is survived by her life partner of 24 years, Bill Good, of Manteca; son, Alan Thompson, and Cammie Blankenship of Manteca; daughter Kathy (Thompson) Van Steyn and son-in-law David Van Steyn, Sr., of Galt; grandchildren, Chelsea Van Steyn of Galt, Renee Ramirez of Manteca, and Jose Ramirez of Galt, along with other family members and friends.
She was preceded in death by her daughter, Kendra Lee Thompson, and her parents, Richard Lee Prouty and Muriel May (Miller) Prouty.
A memorial service will be held Monday, Aug. 4, starting at 10 a.m. at P.L. Fry & Son, 290 N. Union Road in Manteca.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Manteca Historical Society, P.O. Box 907, Manteca, CA 95336; or they may be delivered in person to the Manteca Museum at 600 W. Yosemite Avenue.
To contact Rose Albano Risso, email email@example.com or call 209.249.3536.