Transcriptions of four 1995 Fresno Bee articles about indigent burials

Fresno Bee, The (CA) - June 21, 1995 (Page: A1)

      Author/Byline: Jeanie Borba The Fresno Bee

It was a beautiful day for a burial, if there is such a thing.
Burial is the correct word here, for this was no funeral. It was the simple, cost-effective, no-frills burial Tuesday of 293 of Fresno County's poorest people. They were buried in a single grave in a corner of what looks like a plowed field.
Seven babies with surnames, one Baby Doe and 35 adult John Does were buried. They are sharing the same grave with Phouangkeo Bounpan, Willie Lee Mitchell, Eula Mae Laws, Manuel Quintero Saldivar and Darrel McCullock. With Ernest Peterson and Joan Denita Singh. And with Danny Nichols, Victoria Louise Heller and Jack Michelettii, among dozens of penniless people.
"Somewhere along the line people fall through the cracks. They didn't have any resources," said Dave Caglia, who supervised this first county burial of indigents since 1987.
Nearby are other cemeteries, beautifully kept, shaded by trees and marked by signs that show where Roman Catholic or Armenian or Jewish or military veterans or Evangelicals are buried.
Here in this field, which is the county's paupers' cemetery, there is no sign to mark a final resting place where poverty is the common denominator. There are only long rows of narrow concrete curbing with numbers at each grave.
Row 37, Section S, Grave No. 53. Caglia said he is sensitive to his responsibility. He worries people will think he is somehow being disrespectful of the dead.
He is following established county procedure, he said. It would be nice if there were a proper service for these men, women and babies, "but if you figured a minimum $2,000 per person for a regular service, that's a lot of taxpayers' money."
"When I looked at this box this morning I thought, how much pain and suffering did these people go through? And given the circumstances, it may have been more than what a lot of people go through," said Caglia, the county's parks and grounds operations coordinator.
The county's procedure includes holding the cremated remains of indigents for at ches (31.635 lines) least seven years, in case a family member claims the body and can pay for burial.
After that, and when there are enough of the small boxes of ashes stored in a county maintenance garage to fill a concrete grave liner, the remains are buried in a common grave. Records are filed with the Fresno County Coroner's Office to show where and when each person is buried.
Like the John Doe whose body was found Oct. 10, 1983, in an orange orchard near Reedley. He had been shot once in the left side of the head. A passerby found his body, already mummified and mostly decomposed. He was between 50 and 70 and authorities could not determine whether he was Caucasian or Hispanic.
Or the John C. Doe who died May 18, 1984. He was Hispanic, possibly a Mexican national, who died the day after he was run over by a Southern Pacific freight train in Madera County.
Both his legs and his right arm were amputated. He died at Valley Medical Center.
The man carried no identification, but had a photo of himself and papers in his clothing with the names of other people, apparently friends or relatives.
The coroner's office sent numerous letters and copies of the man's photo to the people whose addresses were in his belongings. Santa Ana; Glendale, Ariz.; Mexicali in Baja California; Sonora, Mexico, and Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico.
Fingerprints and dental examination records were made and saved, in case someone, sometime, should come forward looking for a man who could turn out to be this one.
But most of the people buried Tuesday, said Richard Tobin, Fresno County senior deputy coroner, were elderly people who probably lived in rest homes and had no assets. They may or may not have had relatives. Among them may have been Bernice Tosco, who died Feb. 3, 1985; Margaret Mitcham Downey, who died Aug. 10, 1986, and Eula Mae Laws, who died Oct. 29, 1984.
The county used to pay for the burial of each of its indigents in separate graves, Tobin said. But the procedure was changed in the mid-1960s because of population growth, the expense of full-body burials and the diminishing number of graves available in the paupers' cemetery.
Caglia remembered a few years ago when a woman called the coroner's office looking for her mother, who had died 40-some years earlier. At the time of the death, the family could not afford to bury her, so she had been buried in a single grave in the paupers' cemetery.
Now, Caglia said, the woman's children had pooled their money and wanted to move her remains to a cemetery where their father was buried. All the paperwork was cleared, the money paid for exhumation and transport and the woman was reburied next to her husband.
Those inquiries come along once in a while, every few years, Caglia said. But most of the time, there are no inquiries.
It would be nice, Caglia said, if some church groups wanted to get involved in these infrequent burials.
"Maybe they could get some money donated and we could have a little service out here."
For this burial, there was the sing-song of birds and the chirp of field bugs and crickets.
Once, just after the hour, a whistle blew across the way at the cotton warehouses. Otherwise, it was just peaceful with a soft breeze.
Caption: Photos by Mark Crosse - The Fresno Bee No frills. Fresno County workers on Tuesday bury the cement casket filled with the remains of poor people for which there was no funeral. Gravestone. Number 53 is all that marks the final resting place of 293 people buried in the indigent cemetery west of Fresno. Simplicity. Tim Gavrilis, left, and Joe Branum prepare a vault filled with remains of poor people.
Record: 1995172019Copyright: Copyright (c) 1995 The Fresno Bee

The Fresno Bee (CA) September 11, 1995 (Page: B1)
"How cold must people think the funeral industry is . .. that it gets to the point in time when, regardless of who someone is, no one would care about this."
Brad Bradford,
Boce Funeral Home in Clovis

County's poorest receive posthumous gift

Central Valley Funeral Directors finance a headstone— for Fresno County's paupers

. By Jeanie Borba
Brian Copner worked in a room that was hot, the lighting filtered by the fine dust of granite and aluminum oxide.
The room, just next to the crematory, was stacked with tools and with projects: headstones ready to be engraved, some in progress, some finished and waiting to be set in concrete.
This afternoon, Copner was busy with a special grave marker. In the computer he used to design it, carefully arranging and typing and proofreading all the words, he named this project "Giftmarker." It took him four hours to do the typing, he said.
The gift is from Copner and the nearly 100 other members of the Central Valley Funeral Directors Association. It is a head­stone to mark the single grave in Fresno County's paupers'cemetery where the cre­mated remains of 293 men, women and children were buried in June.
The stone will bear the name of each person buried in that grave, even the John and Mary Does. Copner initially designed the stone with a burning candle on each side and a garland of flowers across the top. But there was not enough room to put everything on the 14-by-30-inch stone. And the names, after all, were most important.
When county workers performed the burials, it was after they had stored the remains of the indigents for at least seven years. The dead, which included eight ba­bies, were buried in a section of county property west of Fresno, just beyond the shaded, well-tended cemeteries for those who are able to pay.
For many years, the county was able to bury its poor in separate graves. But they were forced to change the procedure in the mid-1960s because of population growth.
the expense of full-body btrials and the diminishing number of available graves in the paupers cemetery.
Copner owns Artistic Memorials; he and his father, James, operate Tinkler Mission funeral chapel. Brian's work room is at the rear of the chapel.
They are participating in a project that was the idea of Brad Bradford of Boice Funeral Home in Clovis.
Bradford said he read The Bee's story about the mass burial of some of Fresno County's poorest people and thought, "How cold must people think the funeral industry is ... that it gets to the point in time when, regardless of who someone is, no one would care about this."
Bradford went to his colleagues and stirred their interest in providing a stone for the grave. He said he just wanted peo­ple to know that "there are people who do care about these people, regardless of
Please see Headstone, Page B2

Headstone: Paupers' grave site gets marker
Continued from Page B1

whether we know them or not."
Gone are the days when the makers of tombstones used chisels to hand-etch letters into headstones. Nowadays, computers, cameras, lasers and sandblasting equipment do the hardest work.
To prepare the stone, Copner used glue to stick to the surface of the granite stone a thin rubbery photo mask bearing the names. Then he used two burnishing tools to rub and press the mask firmly onto the stone. "I can always hear my dad's voice saying, This is the most important part of the job, because the better the burnishing work, the sharper the image, the finer the detail on the finished stone”, Copner said.
He slid the 150-pound stone into the sandblasting chamber and cleaned the window. Then he perched on a stool, peering through the glass and put his hands through sleeved openings into the chamber.
Using a power hand tool, Copner shot the stone with 180-grit aluminum oxide. The only parts of the stone that were etched in this tedious part of the project were those not touched by the mask; in other words, the letters themselves.
When it was finished, he would brush white paint over to set off the lettering and then peel off the rubbery mask. Then he would remove all the glue and polish the stone with window cleaner and a soft rag.
The stone will be set in concrete by Fresno County grounds workers at the grave, Row 37,Section South Grave No. 57.

Paupers will get a service

The Fresno Bee (CA) September 20, 1995 (Page: B5)

By Jeanie Borba

There will be a headstone, and there will be a service.
A group of funeral directors, clergy and county personnel will gather at 10 a.m. Thursday to pay their respects to 293 people whose cremated remains were buried in a single grave in June in Fresno County's paupers' cemetery.
The deaths of these men, women and babies — some with names and some without — were marked by a no-frills burial at county taxpayers' expense at the beginning of summer.
Since then, the members of Central Valley Funeral Directors contributed toward the purchase and engraving of a headstone bearing the name of each person buried at Row 37, Section S, Grave No. 53.
Now the funeral directors have invited a group of clergy repre­sentatives to participate in the memorial service and dedication of the stone, said James W. Cop-ner of Tinkler Mission Chapel.
Among those invited are Rabbi Robert Segel of Temple Beth Is­rael, Monsignor Lasenan Byrne of St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, the Rev. Ken­neth Smiley of Second Baptist Church, the Rev. Stephen Mills of Holy Family Episcopal Church, the Rev. Bufe Karraker of Northwest Church, the Rev. John Auer of Sierra Vista United Methodist Church, the Rev. Dan­iel Sotello of El Encino Commu­nity Church and Bill Young, a humanist advocate. A represen­tative of Masjid Fresno also has been invited to officiate.
"We're hoping some other peo­ple might be interested to come to the service," Copner said.
The 36-by- 14-inch headstone will be set by county grounds-keepers.>

Fresno Bee, The (CA) - September 22, 1995 (Page: A1)

Author/Byline: Jeanie Borba The Fresno Bee

Eustolia Ramirez was 5 years old when her mother died Aug. 10, 1983.
Thursday, on a morning that seemed much too still and hot for the end of summer, Ramirez, 18, finally was able to say her goodbyes. Ramirez stood at the grave of her mother, Julia Chavez; she seemed transfixed, so much sadness on her face.
Julia Chavez's grave and headstone are shared with 292 other people - men, women and babies - at the cemetery for Fresno County's poorest people.
Ramirez, after searching to find where her mother was buried, was able to attend a memorial service Thursday for her mother and all the other people whose cremated remains were buried in June at Row 37, Section S, Grave No. 53.
Ramirez brought a beautiful arrangement of pale pink gladioluses and lilies. Someone else brought two small bouquets, and a florist sent a ribboned arrangement.
Joining Ramirez were perhaps three dozen people she didn't know: funeral directors, members of the clergy, county officials, news media. She paid attention only to the grave and to the prayers that were offered for these people buried in a barren field.
"I lost my mother when I was 5. She was 100 percent Mixteca Indian," Ramirez said. The Mixtecs are indigenous people native to the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Joyce Chance, a friend who helped Ramirez find where her mother was buried, comforted her. She said that Ramirez was adopted when she was 7 or 8 years old and had begun to search for her mother a couple of weeks ago.
"This was a major accomplishment for us," Chance said. "This will give her some peace of mind."
The service and the new granite headstone bearing the names of all 293 people buried at grave No. 53 were the gifts of members of the Central Valley Funeral Directors Association and about half a dozen religious leaders.
In accordance with county policy, the cremated remains of these people had been stored in separate boxes for at least seven years, in case someone came forward to claim and bury them. But for cost and practical reasons, the remains actually may be stored much longer, until there are enough of them to fill a concrete grave liner.

A sacred pilgrimage

June's burial was the first since 1987. It included eight babies and 35 adult John Does. They were buried in dignified quiet, but with no service.
On Thursday, Rabbi Robert Segel of Temple Beth Israel prayed in Hebrew and spoke in English of life as a sacred pilgrimage. The Rev. Daniel Sotello of El Encino Community Church prayed in English and Spanish. He noted that more than 100 of these poor people were Hispanic, a reminder of need in the community.
The Episcopalian and Roman Catholic priests and the ministers of Presbyterian and Second Baptist churches spoke eloquently of how precious each of these people was in the eyes of God, even though they died with no money and some had no family or known name.
The Rev. Bufe Karraker of Northwest Church spoke of the importance of gathering to remember these people, and the need for the living also to remember and care for the living.
Among those attending the service was Fresno County Supervisor Deran Koligian, in whose district the cemetery lies. Koligian said he didn't know anyone who was buried at Grave No. 53.

Maintenance limited

Koligian said the service demonstrated community interest in these people and in what happens to the poor, but he said budget constraints will keep the county from changing the way it buries indigents or the way the paupers' cemetery is maintained.
The cemetery has long rows of concrete strips with numbers at each grave site. Grass used to grow there and was maintained by the county's parks and groundskeepers.
But maintenance stopped after the motor from the cemetery's water well was stolen several years ago and after staff positions were cut to save money.
Koligian said it would be nice if a community organization planted some trees at the cemetery or if there were enough community interest to have "maybe an adopt-a-person kind of thing" for maintenance.
"The bottom line is the county can't afford to do what the normal paying perpetual-care cemetery would have," Koligian said.
Copyright (c) 1995 The Fresno Bee