Los Banos District Cemetery embroiled in a controversy

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comMay 30, 2013 

Los Banos District Cemetery has been embroiled in a controversy for the past month that has pitted the ability of citizens to grieve their loved ones against the facility's need to keep its maintenance workers safe.

In recent weeks some families visiting the cemetery have noticed flowers, angels, lights and other items placed at their loved ones' graves aren't there anymore. Cemetery Manager Deborah Lewis has overseen their removal, storing them in a nearby shed in most cases.

Lewis' actions have upset some to the point of wanting to relocate their deceased family members. Others are appalled that their gestures of remembrance are no longer being allowed.

"I can't control who takes things to my daughter's grave, she had a lot of friends. I don't want to tell her friends 'you can't take those things,'" said Jeannette Brown, whose 19-year-old daughter Jaime died of bone cancer last year. "The cemetery is supposed to be a place of (remembrance)."

Some residents are angry with Lewis because she's enforcing rules that her predecessor Darryl Henley did not.

Lewis, who became manager of the cemetery within the past year, would not speak to the Enterprise. Instead, she referred questions to Los Banos Cemetery District Board President Duane Brehm. He said the removal is a matter of public safety.

"She's just doing her due diligence," Brehm said of Lewis' actions. "It's a health and safety issue. There's policy on the books."

The policy prohibits shrines of any kind, toys, boxes, gloves, wind-blown devices, glass objects, metal, rocks, ceramics, wax and other items. Brehm said the policy is to prevent other visitors to the cemetery or maintenance workers from injuring themselves on the items.

Despite vases being provided for flowers near many grave sites, some people have placed flowers at their loved ones' final resting place in containers made from material banned by the cemetery. Other families string lights along the graves of family members.

Some grieving relatives reject the idea that any of the items are dangerous.

"We understand there are safety hazard guidelines we all must follow, but I am more likely to break a leg in one of the gopher holes on the property than a cross, a letter or a stuffed animal, or any memorabilia that we lay on the grave of our loved ones," Marcie Rodrigues said.

During the second week of May the Los Banos Cemetery District sent notices to families with wooden crosses at their family members' graves asking that they be replaced by Memorial Day or the cemetery would remove them. The letter states that the cemetery district plans to bring all grave sites in compliance with board policy.

Stanley Silva and his wife Mathilda have questioned whether the cemetery is singling out certain people in asking that crosses be removed. Stanley Silva also questioned what he said was a lack of sensitivity in asking that it be done by Memorial Day.

Brehm, who has a son buried at the cemetery, said he understands the emotion behind the issue.

"I live it every day," he said. "When your loved ones are gone this is the only thing you can do for them."

Brehm has directed a member of his board to review the policy with assistance from Lewis in hopes of a compromise. For now, Brehm said, the cemetery district will no longer remove items from grave sites.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

The Los Banos Enterprise is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service