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Ceres Memorial Park on the verge of expansion
• Northern section to develop soon
Clayton “Clay” Guzman
Clayton “Clay” Guzman, manager of the Ceres Memorial Park, points to a northern section of the cemetery which will soon be developed for graves. The new section should handle burials for many years, Guzman reported. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER /Courier photo

The dirt lot at the northernmost section of Ceres Memorial Park is on the verge of being turned into the cemetery’s next burial section.

Clay Guzman, manager of the 35-acre cemetery, reported that there are only two remaining grave plots available in the Memory Garden section with all lots sold in the other established garden. So the cemetery is ready to develop the Garden of Remembrance. Fencing has been placed around the new area which is immediately northeast of the former Ceres Drive-In. Guzman expects the area to be graded, followed by the installation of an irrigation system and planting of grass.

The cemetery board has allocated $30,000 to develop the garden.

The section should handle burials for many years.

“One acre is equivalent to 1,917 graves single,” said Guzman.

The trend is the sale of double vaults than single but cremations are more popular than ever.

“We have a lot of land to develop. It took over 140 something years to get this far but we still have property.”

The cemetery is also improving its crematorium.

“We’re putting a new machine in – we’re just waiting for final approval,” said Guzman. “That’s a new project. We’ve redesigned the building already to accommodate the new machine. We have three units now. We’re taking the older unit out and putting a brand new unit in that can cremate six bodies in eight hour.”

The demand for cremation has kept the Ceres Memorial Park’s crematorium busy. With over 2,000 cremations done on site in a year, the park added a night staff to keep up.

The columbarium installed in 2015 for the repository of 212 cremated remains is quickly filling and Guzman said the park will be installing another one “when the time comes.”

The cemetery dates back to 1876 with the burial of the Whitmores who founded the town. Over 16,000 burials are inside the park.

The Ceres cemetery remains a popular choice for local burials because of cost, central location in the county and the ability to offer flat markers or raised headstone. Upright headstones are especially popular with the Hispanic population.

Thomas, a 15-year board member, boasts that the cemetery is “one of the most economical cemeteries around.” 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. Because of that, many families from outside of Ceres – from places as far away as Merced and Stockton – choose the park for burial. Over 200 burials occur in the park annually. 

The cemetery board consists of Charlie Sammons, Brian Carlin, Linny Goodrich, Richard Erickson, Louie Wheeler, Stan Thomas, Mike Sneed and Liz Sneed.

While the area to the south of the cemetery office is vacant and covered in grass, the area is not planned for burials to leave open the possibility for the construction of a chapel one day. Guzman said it won’t be happening until after he retired sometime past his retirement in two years. A chapel would allow funeral services to be held on site “because a lot of people like to walk to the grave after services.”

“We would allow the funeral homes to use it but of course they’d have to pay a fee.”

Other ideas he has would be to use the dirt lot north of the cemetery office to install parking shades with solar panels.

“We burn a lot of electricity in that crematorium. It’s gas and electric.”

Guzman is 71 and plans to retire in two years so he probably won’t be around when the cemetery eventually builds

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

“I plan to retire and leave things better than when I found it. I know I have. You can ask the board too.”

One area of improvement is in finances. The non-profit cemetery is in better financial shape with its revenue, savings and endowment fund.

“I have a lot of development before I can leave,” he said.