About 10 miles south of my home in Stockton is a little town called Manteca. The East Union Cemetery in Manteca is in a pickle. It's a complicated story, but here are the simple facts:
It seems that the cemetery had been operating for about two years without a valid license or a licensed manager as required by California State Law. The East Union Cemetery is privately owned and run by a board of directors. Delinquent loans and tax problems occurred under an earlier board, which had not met for at least two years and failed to hire a licensed cemetery manager, among other issues. The problems came to a head in late June after an administrative law judge ruled the California Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Bureau could revoke the East Union Cemetery Association's license to operate.
Up to that point, the cemetery's plight was not known to the general community. Once it became public, a new, larger board was formed in a last-ditch effort to save the historic cemetery. In an effort to pay off loans and back taxes, this new board used money from the principal of the cemetery's Endowment Fund. Because they used the money for purposes other than what the Endowment Fund is legally intended for, The Bureau was left with no choice but to seize the account so that the Endowment Fund would be protected and not depleted further.
California law requires all private cemeteries licensed by the Bureau to establish, maintain and operate an Endowment Care Fund in a trust account. Every time the cemetery sells a "plot" - a burial space in the ground, a crypt space in a mausoleum, or a niche space for cremated remains - the cemetery collects an endowment care amount from the purchaser. All monies collected for endowment care must be placed in the trust account. The initial amount collected from the purchaser is what is referred to as "principal" and can never be utilized. Over time and through investments, the trust account continues to grow and generate interest income, and the interest income is what is available to use for the on-going maintenance of the cemetery into perpetuity.
The biggest dilemma by far is how and who would be responsible in burying the dead? For even though the state has revoked the cemetery association's business license and froze all of its funds, there was still the matter of the pre-paid burial plots. A legal provision allowed the association to hold the burials of individuals who have purchased their plots. But with the caretakers gone, who was going to dig the graves and take care of all the other tasks involved?
Enter a group of volunteers extraordinaire:
A retired law enforcement officer - Bill Good.A retired Bank of America president - Leon Sucht.A Sheriff's Team of Active Retired Seniors (STARS) volunteer - Victor Gulley.The director of the Manteca Historical Society and Museum - Evelyn Prouty.
Their new calling: grave diggers at Manteca's historic East Union Cemetery. Good, who took over as president of the reorganized cemetery association, learned by himself how to operate the cemetery's back hoe that is used to dig the graves. The rest of the work is done with shovels. That brawn part of the work is handled by Sucht, Gully and Prouty. They also had to learn by themselves how to operate the $18,000 equipment whose name none of them could tell but to which they have given descriptive name as "the casket-lowering thingy-jiggy".
For those who wish to make donations to help the cemetery, they can do so by sending checks to the Friends of the East Union Cemetery. Funds given to this organization do not go to the state but are strictly used to help the cemetery. An account has been opened at Delta National Bank in Manteca where people can go to make contributions. Donations can also be sent to: Friends of the East Union Cemetery, P.O. Box 591, Manteca, CA 95336.
For more information on how to help Friends of the East Union Cemetery or how to become a member, call (209) 823-8533.
An aside: In 2003, Travis Haroldson of Boy Scout Troop 438 catalogued the cemetery for his Eagle Scout Project. You can find the entire cemetery transcribed here.