Grave tributes under review as residents, cemetery work on compromise

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comAugust 28, 2013 

A committee is being formed to allow a representative of the Los Banos District Cemetery and the loved ones of people buried there to compromise on a decorations policy.

For the past few months the cemetery district has been embroiled in a controversy pitting family members' desire to leave mementos at the grave sites of loved ones against the facility's need to keep its maintenance workers safe.

Families visiting the cemetery have noticed flowers, angels, lights and other items placed at their loved ones' graves weren't there anymore. Cemetery Manager Deborah Lewis has overseen their removal, storing them in a nearby shed in most cases and throwing items away if they had been damaged.

Pat Gallichio, the board's newest member and the person who replaced former President Duane Brehm, volunteered this week to set up a committee that will discuss the policy. Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion will also be on the committee.

"I think there needs to be compassion," O'Banion said of the enforcement of the decorations policy.

Cemetery policy prohibits shrines of any kind: toys, boxes, gloves, wind-blown devices, glass objects, metal, rocks, ceramics, wax and other 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.

In July, the board voted to allow lights and provide holes for them when new foundations are poured. Flower containers can be used at grave sites that do not have holes for lights.

The cemetery board has directed Lewis to notify families before items that do not comply with the decorations policy are removed from grave sites.

"From what I'm hearing on the outside, we need to have some kind of continuity between all of us (board members)," Gallichio said.

Monday about 35 people crammed into the Los Banos Cemetery office to tell board members of their despair at visiting the graves of family to find items missing. Some accused Lewis of lacking empathy.

The board postponed a number of changes to its decorations policy until Gallichio's committee is formed and has a chance to discuss recommendations.

Those interested in being on the committee can be put in contact with Gallichio by calling the Los Banos District Cemetery at at (209) 826-0882.

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

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