Friday, Jul. 20, 2012
Retirement doesnt mean manager will stop caring about cemetery
By Corey Pride
Most days Darryl Henley can be found on Center Avenue overseeing the care of the final resting place for the loved ones of many of the citys longtime families.
Henley, 73, and a staff of four console the distraught, maintain the land and make certain that Los Banos Cemetery remains in operation even during financially lean times.
Henley took over as the cemeterys manager on Aug. 1, 2002. It was then that he decided he would devote the next decade to the job.
Thats where I came up with the date to retire here, it was a nice round number. I figure if I was going to stop I would stop at a given point, Henley said. The given point arrives in 12 days. However, he said, he will likely stay on the job until his replacement is hired.
I wish him well, Merced County Supervisor Jerry OBanion said. Hed always get the information Id request to me in a timely manner and he tried to keep the grounds up as best he could with the money that was available.
Henley spent most of his life in the medical field, including stints as an administrator at hospitals in Los Banos and Dos Palos. He said he started venturing toward the medical field when he served in the Vietnam War, but his eyesight was too bad for combat assignment.
Henley retired from the medical profession in 2001.
He said running a cemetery is easier. The hospital business is not one Id wish on anybody, he said, adding that low insurance reimbursement levels and doctors with bad attitudes made his job difficult.
It was at the hospital in Dos Palos that Henley became involved in the cemetery district. An employee of his recommended he join the cemetery board: You get paid $50 a month and you learn something.
OBanion appointed Henley to the board.
Eventually, it was discovered that Henleys position on the Los Banos Cemetery District had to be vacated because he lived in Dos Palos, outside the district. He was subsequently offered the managers job.
Henley knows how he will spend his newly found free time. He bought a home in Dos Palos that he plans to fix up and he wants to devote more time to playing the piano and organ for his church on Sundays and performing the occasional private party gigs he gets in the Bay Area.
Henley worries about the future of the cemetery.
The budget it operates under has two revenue sources, burials/the sale of plots and a property tax increment. Henley said the property tax money has declined sharply since 2008 and burials fluctuate between 95 and 115 per year.
What I worry about is, is there going to be enough money to pay the bills, Henley said.
Were just holding on and breaking even at best.
In 2005 a building developer offered to buy excess land from the cemetery district, but following a public outcry and a declining housing market the proposal was rescinded. Henley said he believes not taking the offer was a mistake.
If we had that money we could do a lot of things, Henley said. We could start expanding the cemetery, buy newer equipment. We need money to expand the cemetery, we are slowly filling it up.
Duane Brehm, president of the Los Banos Cemetery District Board of Directors, said Henley came along as manager at a time when the board had a lot of issues with the way the facility was being run.
(Henley) came in and cleaned up and straightened up, Brehm said. I think hes done an excellent job.
Henley said he will miss his staff, but it is time for him to go.
Im tired of working, he said. Ive been working since I graduated from high school.