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Ceres Cemetery places five crematory niches
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A columbarium carved of Wisconsin granite and weighing about 8,000 pounds was set into place last Wednesday at Ceres Memorial Park. Four other structures were set in place to store the cremated remains of 212 persons. To get the straps freed from the bottom, the bottom of the heavy item was placed atop bags of ice which melted to slowly settle it in place. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The rising popularity of cremations as a less expensive option to full burial caused the 35-acre Ceres Memorial Park to install five granite columbarium units on Wednesday to store future remains.

Unloading the extremely heavy niches - produced at a stone quarry in Nashotah, Wisc., - was installed by American Crane of Escalon under the supervision of a crew from E.L Pugh Memorials of Woodlawn. The largest unit weighed 10,000 pounds, or five tons, while the four smaller ones weighing 8,000 pounds apiece.

The addition of the new columbarium allows the non-profit cemetery to offer 212 openings for the repository of cremated remains. Some units offer dual storage for the remains of two persons.

"Due to the rise in cremation cases the need to provide this service over the years has increased," said cemetery manager Clayton "Clay" Guzman.

The Ceres park added a columbarium three years ago and it was filled up six months ago.

"We have people waiting for these," said Guzman. "We have about 10 families waiting to purchase space. This is a positive step for the cemetery providing ground burials, cremation services and cremation ground-above ground placements."

The new columbarium is called Tranquility Garden. Each structure is named for easier location. They are named Twilight, Sunset, Horizon, Sunrise and Daybreak with an angel statue keeping a watchful eye over them from the center unit.

Guzman said cremation is more popular on the western coast with cremation rates at about 55 percent in California.

"We're more environmentally conscience and the water has a lot to do with it."

While many people keep ashes of a loved one in an urn in the home or others scatter them at a special location, some families prefer to keep them stored at a cemetery as a memorial.

The demand for cremation has kept the Ceres Memorial Park's crematorium busy. With 1,600 to 1,800 cremations done on site in a year, the park added a night staff to keep up.

The cemetery dates back to 1876 with the burial of the Whitmores who founded the town, said Guzman. Approximately 13,000 are buried at the park. Besides local celebrities, Guzman said the park is the resting place for chorus girl Bonnie Brooks DeRita (1917-65), the wife of Curly Joe DeRita, one of the lesser known of the celebrated Three Stooges. The first nurse in the U.S. Army is also buried in Ceres.

The non-profit cemetery tries to keep costs down to remain competitive with other parks in the area and the cemetery's board of directors has refused to team up with a for-profit funeral home.

Guzman said that since taking over in 2004, the cemetery has improved its appearance and security.