Many people find cemeteries as places to avoid. But seven men are passionate about seeing that Ceres Memorial Park is well cared for and see themselves as custodians of generations of dead whose remains rest there.
Elected by those who owns plots are board members who oversee the cemetery’s care and maintenance and set policy. Current members are former Ceres mayor Brian Carlin, Charles Sammons, Stan Thomas, Linny Goodrich, Richard Erickson, Mike Sneed and Louie Wheeler. The group can be found inside the cemetery office conducting business at around 5 p.m. the second Thursday of the month.
The Ceres cemetery was established in 1879shortly after Ceres was founded. There was a need for a place to bury those who passed away in town. The oldest section of the cemetery near the Whitmore Avenue overpass and the railroad tracks contains the remains of many pioneer families, such as the Whitmores. For decades the cemetery was neglected until Lowell Garrison – yes he is buried there now – spearheaded the organization of a cemetery association in 1951.
Clay Guzman, manager of the cemetery, said most trustees serve because they have relatives buried in the cemetery or they are longtime residents who care about providing endowment care within the non-profit organization.
Board newcomer Louis Wheeler – his parents, aunts and uncle and wife’s parents are buried at the cemetery – was encouraged to serve on the board. Likewise, Richard Erickson was invited to serve by the late Floyd Sneed who served a long time on the board. Erickson and Sneed were neighbors.
“It’s a job that really needs to be done. I think it’s important and this cemetery shows it.”Richard Erickson
“It’s a job that really needs to be done,” said Erickson. “I think it’s important and this cemetery shows it.”
Stan Thomas, a 12-year board member, boasts that the cemetery is “one of the most economical cemeteries around.” 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 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.
An average burial costs $3,300 which includes opening and closing; or $5,200 for two bodies in one grave. Aside from the lower cost, Thomas feels the cemetery draws business for its quality state.
“I think it’s a neat cemetery,” said Thomas. “It’s well managed and just kept up good. I think the people like it. It’s not a big one.”
Guzman, caretaker since 2004, estimated at 16,000 persons are buried in Ceres, which includes cremation burials.
“It’s a city within a city,” he noted.
The cemetery has expanded over the years to include space for more graves. One acre can accommodate 1,719 graves, or much more when graves are double stacked.
“We have room to go for another hundred and something years,” said Guzman.
“Our price is pretty reasonable considering all others. I would consider us one of the lowest in the county.”
Guzman said in California about 64 percent of deaths go the route of cremation. The demand has kept the Ceres Memorial Park’s crematorium busy. With 1,600 to 1,800 cremations performed on site in a year, the park added a night staff to keep up.
The park added a 212-space columbarium for cremains three years ago and has filled up about 75 already. There are plans to add a “baby land” section.
Charles Sammons joined the board two decades ago at the behest of Bob Wix when he pulled up roots for Twain Harte. Sammons and Ben Taylor were a part of the board who hired Guzman who has since earned praise for the appearance of the park and increasing the park’s endowment fund.
“I’ve been here for seems like forever,” said Sammons, “but I enjoy it because it has to be done and it’s something that’s fulfilling to be here.”
Sammons will be at the park forever because he has a plot already picked out.
Modesto resident Brian Carlin, a former Ceres mayor who ran a plumbing shop on Fourth Street for decades, remains connected to Ceres through his service on the board. Other Ceres mayors serving on past cemetery boards included Walter White, Guy Wharton and Ted Humphries.
“My folks are buried out here,” Carlin noted. His mother, Helen Carlin, once served on the board prior to 1989 and then became recording secretary.
“I’ve always been involved in the community so this is just one more – keeping Ceres looking nice and this is one big step to it,” said Linny Goodrich.
Mike Sneed has been on the board one year and said he “inherited” the position from his father, Floyd Sneed who served for about 30 years, and his grandfather, Benny Sneed, also served on the board in the 1950s.
As an endowment care facility, the cemetery incorporates a fee into the cost of plots and burials that goes into a trust fund. The dividend in the investment is used to maintain the cemetery, including landscaping and mowing and maintenance costs. The cemetery also forks over $4,000 per month for Ontel Security to maintain the peace and serenity of the grounds and keep out vandals and trespassers after hours.
Terms of board members are staggered to maintain continuity.